The Magi would agree

By David Grima | Jan 11, 2013

Following last week’s report about an Englishman who had a stroke and woke up speaking only Welsh, I received the following story from a reader. The story was published online by the BBC on Dec. 28.

Don’t worry about the names you cannot pronounce. Gwynedd is a county in North Wales where Welsh is still spoken by many natives who have not all had strokes, and “dd” is pronounced somewhat like “th”. Just get the sense of it:

Police were called to a shop in Gwynedd after the cashier asked a former archdruid for payment in English. Dr Robyn Lewis, 83, insisted the shop assistant at the Spar in Pwllheli told him the amount owed in Welsh.

“But she repeated it three times in English before the manager told Dr Lewis he would call the police unless he paid or left the premises.

Dr Lewis said: “All I wanted was an answer in my own language, in my own country."

"The young lady at the till spoke fluent Welsh but she told me the sum of £58.62 was due," he said.

"I asked her to repeat it in Welsh but she said it again in English.

"I told her I'd asked her to repeat it in Welsh but she said it for the third time."

Dr Lewis was expecting the cashier to ask him for "pum-deg-wyth punt, chwedeg-dau".

But instead she said his shopping was "fifty-eight pounds and sixty-two pence".

When the first officer from North Wales Police arrived back-up had to be called because he was a non-Welsh speaker.

"It was sorted out by me being given another Welsh-speaking cashier to whom I spoke entirely in Welsh," Dr Lewis said.

"I paid and left. Honour was satisfied.

"All I wanted was an answer in my own language, in my own country."

Dr Lewis is a former archdruid of the Gorsedd of the Bards at the National Eisteddfod Welsh cultural festival.

Conrad Davies, who owns the Spar shop, said: "The customer was not happy so we had to call the police as he refused to pay for his goods.

"The situation was completely blown out of proportion and left our member of staff extremely upset."

* * * * *

The first few days of this year have been mind-blastingly cold for people who live on top of tall concrete turrets in the South End. I thought I was doing fine until the sun began to set on New Year’s Day, when I realized I had forgotten to attend a brunch party held that afternoon only one house over from my tower.

To forget a party where food is being served is very awkward for me. It demonstrates the destructive effect of bad weather on my brain.

But there are still some advantages to living up here, far above the ground and the scrape of the snow plow. On Saturday night the sky was particularly brilliant with stars. The Plow, or the Big Dipper, was fully in view starting over to the northeast, and a bunch of other shining things were scattered over the rest of the vault of heaven.

* * * * *

Glancing down from my battlements before dawn on Sunday I saw through the lightly falling snow, by the soft light of a passing seagull, several quiet figures in antique clothing leading camels up Atlantic Street toward the town. Where they came from I am not sure, but this was the feast of Epiphany, at which the visit of the Magi carrying boxes of shining stars and other delights to Bethlehem is observed.

I had no idea it was our turn to see them this year. There is no way to know when they will be back.

* * * * *

New Year’s Eve we spent at B’s house, and were treated to a cheese fondue dinner. As if fondue were not retro enough, she also provided us with hideous red napkins apparently made out of some combination of polyester and grit, which you could probably shave with or strike matches on, because they were so rough to the touch.

They reminded me of when we all used to wear clothes made out of polyester, and how we used to pretend we liked it. The napkin labels said they were made of 25 percent nylon and 75 percent metallic fabric.

* * * * *

The more I learn about the closure of the homeless shelter in Rockport, the more I think our community has been let down. That the only viable shelter in three counties should close just as winter arrives is very hard to accept, and it seems that it required a number of people to be involved in what amounts to serial irresponsibility for it all to fall the pieces the way it did.

Apparently what happened is that the board of directors simply walked away from the whole enterprise, one at a time, year by year, each one simply vanishing when his or her term of office expired, finally leaving it all in the hands of people who had not the ability to cope with the operation.

And to cap it all, just as these folks closed the door they set off what was effectively a booby trap in their wake. They dissolved the so-called corporation that had owned the property, leaving everything in legal limbo.

I have met quite a number of people this winter who are homeless and in need, and we have reason to think somebody has been spending the night at St. Bildad’s by the Sea at least part of the time. No doubt there are others who see signs of people sleeping outdoors, or in corners of other properties, all across town.

The reaction of parishioners to the occupation of St. Bildad’s has been mixed. Some think we should beef up security to protect our stuff. Some think we should turn a blind eye and allow it.

Perhaps as the Magi passed quietly through Rockland this Epiphany they have left us gifts, not of gold, myrrh or frankincense, but of wisdom and kindness with which we can fix this problem. I think our fellow citizens should not be expected to sleep in a manger or in a cattle shed, or in the snow, and I believe the Magi would agree.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at or by inviting him to brunch and hoping he remembers.


Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.