Yesterday I posted some thoughts on the recent New Chaucer Society conference in Swansea, focusing upon professional and scholarly impacts. Then to lighten the mood I offered a slideshow of Welsh castles, including a lesser-known fortress called "Kilvey." Today I offer a vignette more vagrant and more personal in its trajectories.
When I think back on the event, I am certain that a gun and a speeding car were involved -- but for the life of me I can provide no real evidence of either bullets or excessive speed.
With a herd of fellow medievalists I was crossing the Stalinist dystopia of the University of Swansea campus. We were headed towards a bus, about to be transported to the Gower peninsula and a much-needed infusion of scenicness. A VW Passat screeched to a stop in front of me, narrowly missing a dawdling philologist. Stephanie Trigg flung
"Get inside!" she snarled from the car. (Yes, she snarled. You wouldn't think it from all her sweetness and light at Humanities Researcher, but she actually snarled). Her
What choice did I have? I got inside the Passat. There I beheld her accomplices in the abduction: Tom Prendergast and George Edmondson. They were smiling serenely, as if guns and kidnappings and speeding off from the conference happen all the time at NCS.
And now the part of the sequence that needs no dream for enhancement. We headed to Langland, where we found a pub built where the rocks of the shore meet the sand of the beach. The sun was low, the tide was approaching, dogs and their owners strolled the water's verge. Each of us sat with a pint of something cold on the table in front of us. We smiled at the air's briny scent and the ocean's looping timbre. We laughed at each other's bad jokes. We had the welcome chance to know each other well.
Our eyes were drawn, inevitably, to the beach. We watched children, dark wetsuits against the water's chill, build a circular fortress of sand, an affront to the path of the oncoming tide. The walls of their fortification mounted as the waves neared. The children knew that the labor of their hands was useless, that the sea was going to breach their walls and wash away their work. Yet they toiled at the castle, immuring themselves in a steep ring of sand, the dust that ages of water smashes from rocks. Their laughter seemed the declaration that what they had fashioned might stand against the verging tide, that somehow if they only built high enough and thick enough and fancifully enough -- that if they willed their work's permanence with enough desire -- then the ocean's ebb would falter, its assault halt at the rebuke of their artifice.
The water breached their walls. The ditch vanished beneath a sudden surge, the palisade dissolved, the bailey was wiped from the beach like a memory past edge of recollection. The children screamed with delight. The fortress had been shored not against ruin, but for ruin alone. Its art was in its undoing. In the memory of the architecture, in the memory of the pleasures shared and the fleeting community formed, in the hope of future castles and future unions of friends, sea, and sand: that was the vision that we saw on the beach, we four medievalists who were dreaming our pasts yet to come.
[photo of Mumbles by author]