Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Sirhowy Arms Hotel Cannibal and the Map of Love

When I read about Matthew Williams who attacked and ate a woman at the former Sirhowy Arms Hotel in Argoed, Blackwood, I was forced to pull up a Google map.

Where in the world was Argoed and how could such an unsettling thing have happened? The news reports pointed to somewhere in Wales. The former Sirhowy Arms Hotel was now a halfway house for homeless people. I had written about such places in sleepy communities across Britain back in the day. Local people never wanted them on their doorstep, thinking they would encourage undesirables. The normal reaction was to label such folks NIMBYS (Not in My Back Yard) but some of the elderly residents of Argoed, may have had a fair point after Williams' sickening attack on a woman he appeared to had a relationship with.

Some locals said the halfway house had been the source of trouble. "We's even had people sleeping rough overnight in the hedgerows," said one villager. I was a bit perplexed by that comment as sleeping rough in a hedge did not seem to be up there with cannibalism.


The Brecon Beacons


In my efforts to find out where this had happened, I pulled up the map and expanded it. The familiar shapes of the Welsh valleys came to me and Cardiff and the majestic River Severn. It was close to the place I had grown up and I was surprised by the feeling of homesickness that swept over me. I remembered that gray day, when the water was as a gray as the milky sky and the mud lapped on the Severn and we pulled a mighty fossil from the river bank, the mud lapping on our shoes. The ammonite fossil was a relic from a prehistoric sea that had lapped here long ago millions of years before Gloucester was the great strategic crossing of the Severn.

I had never thought of Gloucester as a lovable place but slowly it unfolded in the map of love. When I grew up in Gloucester it has lost the strategic significance it had in Roman times when two roads crossed at The Cross, In Medieval times a vast cathedral had risen in Gloucester but it seemed out of place back in the days when I wandered through the avenues of quietly crumbling half timbered buildings past the largest expanse of stained glass in Europe.

The serrated green lines to the north of Blackwood marked the Brecon Beacons, where majestic hills rose like a whale with a smooth back. To climb up their expanse on a sunny day was to ascend to heaven and to look down on a lake like a mirror. The long contours of the mountain range proved to be a map of love and hate. On a day when the mist hug heavy over the mountains I had ascended into the dankness with V. hoping the breathless heights would revitalize our relationship, only to be met with a litany of complaining and the inevitable downward descent.


Llanthony Priory


But to the east the map proved to be more sunny. I saw the Black Mountains and the ruins of Llanthony Priory, one of the prettiest places in all of Christiandom. The memories came flickering back - a smile and a sea of purple flowers winding away to the high hills.

Then I thought of the Golden Valley and how we had woken to see the mist drifting down the river. We had made a pilgrimage here after seeing the movie Shadowlands. The Goilden Valley proved to be illusive and beautiful in an understated way associated with places off the beaten track. We drove through small villages and ate in stone pubs and heard the lilting accents of Wales just over the border. The land of song and dizzy heights.


Raglan Castle


Then we drove along the border past the savage ruins of castles that marked the days when this place was the Gaza Strip of its age. When you walk through the old gatehouses and see the holes where burning hot ash was dropped on attackers, you feel a chill even on the warmest of days.

Perhaps the map of love is not so far removed from hate and cannibalism - the flip side of the human condition that we don't want to contemplate.

4 comments:

  1. A study of contrasts!
    To saturate yourself in the history of the area, beautiful. What humans are capable of - tragic! And I'm sure not the first incident of horror, but we erase those - beauty hides evil.

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    1. I know Yolanda - I guess the border is fashioned by savagery

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  2. Thing is, you didn't eat your girlfriend. Wales is beautiful but you can't trust the Welsh *) Incidentally, when it is grey in Britain it is grEy with an E not an A :) Beautiful shots on here. If it wasn't pissing it down with rain I'd be tempted to grab my camera and hot foot it up to the Brecon Beacons.

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    1. this is true Jules. I am not a big fan of eating one's girlfriend. Ah yes gray/grey

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