Waldo Williams’ muse cannot be appreciated without reference to the impish aspect of his personality along with the more familiar profound element. That was the gist of dramatist Gareth Miles’ observations when delivering the Cymdeithas Waldo Annual Lecture at Ysgol Uwchradd Botwnnog, Pwllheli, on Friday, September 27, 2013. He described how Waldo’s humour blossomed in the company of dramatist Idwal Jones, on the basis of limericks and parodies, to such an extent that their humour became known as ‘Idwaldod’.
He mentioned Waldo’s comical manner when relating some of his most unusual experiences. There was the occasion when he called in a tavern in Llandovery on a Saturday evening when he noticed that meals were provided. But he was told by the landlord that no meals were available that evening. Waldo pleaded with him but his response was that he could not make an exception of Waldo, as other customers would then want a meal. But there were no other customers in the tavern. Waldo pleaded again and the landlord finally relented and made him a cheese sandwich. But there was a strict condition attached.
If any customers came in he was to hide the sandwich under his seat or else the landlord would be plagued with requests for meals that were not available even though their availability was advertised. A bus full of rugby players from Skewen arrived. The biggest oaf in their midst on seeing Waldo chewing insisted on being given a crisp. Waldo denied he was eating crisps. A heated argument took place concerning whether Waldo was eating crisps or not. The oaf went to the toilets. The other rugby players advised Waldo to scarper because the oaf was a dangerous character not to be messed with. However Waldo initially held his ground. But he was eventually led by the landlord out to the passage to eat what was left of his cheese sandwich.
Waldo would always titter incredulously as he told the story. As he proposed a vote of thanks to the guest lecturer Robin Llŷn, the President of Cyfeillion Llŷn who were jointly responsible for organising the event, referred to the oft-told story of Waldo’s experience when he stood as an election candidate in Pembrokeshire in 1959 and had just addressed an audience of one. At the end he asked the gentleman whether he wished to make a comment or ask a question. No response. Eirwyn Charles, the agent, suggested Waldo should ask in English and, yes, the gentleman then responded –‘Yes, is it all right if I lock up, now?’. He was the caretaker. Prior to the lecture, Cit Parry, widow of Gruffudd Parry, one of Waldo’s closest companions when he was a teacher at Ysgol Botwnnog for two years in the early 1940s, unveiled a plaque, which also refers to Waldo’s loss of losing his wife, Linda, at that time. (Press to see Plac Botwnnog) Reminiscences of the unconventional teacher were shared by two of his former pupils, Ifan
Jones Hughes and John Gruffydd Jones. Ifan referred to Waldo’s ‘Geography’ lessons through the medium of Welsh, which was more of his own ‘personal policy’ rather than the policy of the education authority and how he appeared to be slapdash in his choice of clothes preferring brown shoes and corduroy trousers while his hair was unaccustomed to being brushed or combed. “He had a magical accent and he was a likeable man, different, with his mind often far away,” he said. John Gruffydd Jones remembered how they both went to swim in the sea on a Saturday morning ‘in order to wash the week away’ as Waldo would explain.
But he remained silent throughout the morning. “And he wasn’t a strong swimmer as he tended to splash around without hardly moving” said the pupil. A copy of a volume entitled, ‘Dylanwad y Chwyldro Ffrengig ar Lenyddiaeth Cymru’ (The Influence of the French Revolution on Welsh Literature), with Waldo’s self-inscribed name on the cover was shown, which had been found when spring cleaning the library according to the headmaster, Gareth Jones. Also to be seen was the bronze bust of Waldo made by sculptor John Meirion Morris. The school’s girls choir sang one of Waldo’s poems for children ‘Byd yr Aderyn Bach’ (The World of the Tiny Bird) and the poem ‘Cofio’ (Remembrance) was read by Enid Evans.
And as is the custom now, Cerwyn Davies, chairman of Cymdeithas Waldo, invoked a few minutes silence before the lecture as a sign of respect for Waldo’s Quaker beliefs. In order to cement the close relationship and co-operation between a Llŷn peninsula community and a Pembrokeshire community a tour of the area was led by Elfed Gruffydd on Saturday around the places associated with Waldo and Linda. The following Monday a plaque was re-unveiled in Haverfordwest to denote Waldo’s birthplace, now at the entrance to the new County Archives, where the School House stood in Prendergast. Waldo spent the first seven years of his life in the town and when he retired it was where he chose to buy a home.
As he took part in the original unveiling ceremony fifteen years ago James Nicholas congratulated the vision shown by the residents of ‘Harfat’ and concluded by uttering the immortal words, ‘May the eternal light shine on the soul of Waldo Williams’. As Colin Evans, the former headmaster of nearby Sir Thomas Picton High School, unveiled the plaque anew it could also be said ‘may the eternal light shine on the soul of James Nicholas as well’ as he had died the previous day.
During the ceremony Dilys Parry shared her reminiscences of Waldo during the election, in his night class and as they walked in the company of Quakers. Pupils from Prendergast Community School and Ysgol Gymraeg Glan Cleddau also took part. On Saturday, September 21, a plaque inscribed by sculptor Ieuan Rees, was placed on the wall of the family home at Rhosaeron, Llandysilio. The unveiling was made by one of Waldo’s nephews, David Williams. (See photographs on Life and Work page) Côr Harmo-ni sang and Ann Davies read ‘Mewn Dau Gae’. A leaflet entitled ‘The Waldo Tour’, written by Eirwyn George and Damian Walford Davies, was also launched.
The leaflet can be seen under Publications on the website. The co-operation of Dewi John, the owner of Rhosaeron, was much appreciated in bringing the project to fruition. Similarly Vernon Beynon for allowing a number of those gathered to enjoy a picnic on Weun Parc y Blawd as an apt conclusion to the afternoon’s events. (See photograph on Poems page)