Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oeil de Faucon

We've met Wislen before, walking a telephonic tightrope between a Toronto Hausfrau and her husband, whose erotic adventures with a Hoover Powerdrive vacuum cleaner had left him in the care of the municipal ambulance service.

I asked him how he'd honed such diplomatic skills. "I'm a meaty, bearded bear of man with bowed arms and a short fuse," he explained from under an absurd hat, "And being a Goldwater Republican gives me plenty of scope for practicing patience in this fag-hag country of yours."

"How come?" I asked.

"Because I come from Dallas, and have to sit through under-considered recollections of where people think they were when President Kennedy was shot every goddam week."

"You didn't like him, then?"

"I come from Dallas," he repeated evenly.

I soon had occasion to witness Wislen's subtle social savoir-faire in action on the bracken-buckled battlefield that is Wales - the bar of The Torrent Walk Hotel in my hometown Dolgellau, to be precise.

Our frontiersman friend had taken the stone-wheeled funicular up from England to visit me one college summer holiday. He enjoyed the journey through the Berwyn Mountains - "reminds me of my winter wolf-herding round the Borgo Pass" - and was full of bonhomie as we settled down at an overturned table in the Torrent's dugout bar.

Three rounds into the barrel of St Trisant's Landsker Special, and Wislen felt expansive enough to wander up to the bar rather than rely on my native disdain for vowels.

As Chwarthbell the barmaid heaved the hoppy slops into a pair of slate jugs, Wislen lit up the cosy gloom with his American smile. "Know what I like about Wales, Boyo?" he bellowed thoughtfully. "Back home I'm not such a tall guy, but - shoot! - I'm a head higher than every peon in this bar!"

The guttural chatter of goat-gelding ground down like badly-filed teeth. All was still, save for the rasp of breath over bevelled tongues and the growling gale without.

Wislen's Texan élan bore him blithely over these breakers of Silurian resentment, although I knew that, even as he arranged his denim rump back on the lacquered tree stump, a phalanx of firebranded fanatics was circling his parents' Panhandle ranch, kindling aloft and coccyges aquiver.

Wislen quaffed on undaunted. I was about to broach a brace of cultural recommendations, before the hunchbacks by the hearth could finish hawking into the ritual coal-scuttle, when the weighted boulder rolled back and my cousin Wilma shouldered her way in.

Like so many Welshwomen Wilma craved human company, and so bore down on Wislen, shandy in hand.

It was the work of moments for her to ascertain that our guest was single, solvent and not from around here, simply by surveying his even number of digits.

"Where you from then?" she whistled through her front row of teeth, primping her ebony bangs with a divining stick.

"These United States of America, ma'am," he declared.

"Oooh," she cooed, "whereabouts?"

"Texas." He was as buttoned down as a Brooks Brothers shirt by now.

"Big and bright!" yodelled Wilma, setting off an atavistic chorus of 'Hen Ferchetan' from the council puddle-heating crew dripping proudly in the corner. "And from where in Texas? The Salammbô?"

"I was coming to that." Wislen shrivelled like a jellyfish in the shadow of a seaside shovel.

"I'm from Dallas."

"Aaaah, I remember where I was when your President Kennedy died!"

Now it was Wilma, but it could have been any and every barfly or border guard from Dún Laoghaire to Luhansk.

"Do tell," whispered Wislen, prodding me towards the heaving kegs.

"Well, I'll never forget that night. Boyo was just a baby, and I was minding him while his parents were out on the town. I was hosing him down after a game of 'cormorant' in the witches' pool when the news came over the wireless - I had to turn up the Bunsen burner to get the valves working right..."

There followed a pleasant few hours of explaining that New Mexico is a place in its own right, not simply a more recent version of Mexico, before we waded out into the evening ichor and headed home to our respective huts.

Wislen lit a Cohiba and generously scattered some Chesterfields to the pre-teen tokers at his heels.

"I'm a rye-based, red-eyed lifeform, Boyo," he ruminated. "And I'm not set on living forever. But I like to hope that one day people will remember my hometown for its extensive marshalling yards and enigmatic underpasses, not just because some Cajun nut done shot one of our many presidents there."

I suppose I could have said that for most of us Dallas already meant amoral oilmen dangling off Sue Ellen's shoulder-pads, rather than the messy dispatch of JFK to the great pool party in the sky.

But I was too busy trying to understand how Wilma could have doused me on 22 November 1963 when, according to the squid-ink inscription in the Boyo family Bible, I first swam ashore from our Bardsey Island spawning ground some 13 months later.

At least I have the right number of fingers to figure it out.