st cynllo's church

 

 

Llangynllo Ceredigion

Acknowlegement

Much of the information contained on this website has been drawn from the excellent guidebook to St Cynllo's written by Rev. Brian Whatmore - this lovingly written and scholarly guide is highly recommended for those who would like to learn more about the history of this beautiful Church.

guide

Copies of the guidebook

are available at the

Church

poppy P1070253a
2020Vision

War or Peace

John Franks

 

Despite all his misgivings, all his doubts, he was now seated in the first class compartment of Boeing 747

heading to a distant land to discuss peace. Peace ... reflecting on the word he realised that it largely had a

theoretical meaning for him. For thirty years his life had been war, apart from a number of brief, uneasy

periods of ceasefire, and as he reflected on this it struck him that he didn’t really know how to live at peace.

What would he do? What would drive him? How could anything be more important, more all-consuming

than fighting for freedom, for victory?

 

 

The first stage of his journey had been by private jet, surrounded by his armed, personal guards. Different

now, on the commercial plane. If it hadn’t have been for the two highly trained - if unarmed - UN

bodyguards whom he could see ostensibly relaxing in reclined seats, less than ten feet away - one in front of

him, one behind - he would have felt naked, vulnerable. An attractive hostess asked him if he would like to go

to the bar, or prefer her to bring him a drink to his seat. He asked for a large whisky to be brought to him, he

didn’t want to mix with the other passengers or get drawn into a conversation. Not that there was much

likelihood of his being recognised. He wore a plain dark suit and had shaved, no one would link him to the

uniformed, bearded President they had likely seen on news clips over the years. But what could he possibly

say to businessmen, or members of a party flying to a UNESCO conference? There were a number of very

attractive women in the compartment, whom any man would have liked to talk to, but again, what to say?

And moreover they were like an alien species, confident and self possessed, assuming complete equality with

the men. He found them unnerving, almost frightening.

 

 

When he had finished his drink, he reclined his chair into the sleeping position. The flight would cross five

time zones and on arrival the clock would have wound back to nine o’clock in the morning, the start of a new

day. He needed to rest. But sleep was slow in coming and his mind ran back over the key moments in his life,

all those deeply cut experiences that would never be dislodged or overwritten by a few days talks in a foreign

country that had known nothing of war or conflict for two generations.

 

 

Even before he attended school, his father had told him, with great fervour, of the proud history of their

land and their people, and with even deeper passion how their neighbouring country had invaded and stolen

nearly half their possession. His father was a zealot, but not so much more than others. From friends and

families, in school and from the mouths of leaders, he had absorbed the nation’s anger and frustration, grown

to hate their historical enemies, and ultimately decided that he himself would work for the liberty of his

people when he was grown up.

 

 

It had all really begun when he was twenty two. He had been in the people’s army for three years when

the border war broke out. Bloody, vicious, brief. His father and elder brother had been killed at the front; half

his home village had been destroyed by rocket fire and many of his family, friends and neighbours had been

killed. And they had lost the war, their president surrendered to the enemy. An international peace keeping

force - how that term had made him grind his teeth - enforced the re-establishment of original borders, his

own nation became subject to international sanctions. And in the face of his country’s defeat, its prospect of

increased poverty, the international community celebrated the ‘peaceful resolution of the conflict’. His heart

had burned on hearing that announcement, but later it had broken him with bitter tears, when he had

returned home to his grieving mother, the dead, the devastation, the crippled and injured. Insufficient food,

insufficient medical supplies, almost no government help to re-build the village. Yes, this had when it had

really begun, and for the next five years he had not only got his hands dirty when on leave, he had driven

hard his military career, rising from 2nd lieutenant to colonel, and applied himself to the study, and later the

practice of politics. Throughout his younger brother had been his right hand man and support. In the fifth

year his profile in the armed forces and in the life of the nation had given him sufficient power to plan and

undertake the coup against their feeble, over-reconciliatory and incompetent government.

 

 

The coup had been a time of blood, but less than was reported across the world. He knew that his

country, and most particularly himself, were in the international spotlight. He understood the need for a

clean and quick victory and the right messages for the UN. He achieved power in less than a week, he was

voted into the presidency as he had planned and he consolidated his position with the people by employing

the skilled men of the armed forces to help rebuild the country’s infrastructures, improving water and food

supplies and creating jobs. For a while he was loved.

 

 

But his central goal had never changed. He wanted his country’s lost land back, he wanted his enemies

defeated and humiliated, he wanted justice for all those dead. His father’s eloquent patriotism was never far

from his mind. So he had built up the army, bought a small air force and the necessary training for pilots and

ground crew, stockpiled arms, ammunition, mid and long range rockets, and when the time was ripe, he

organised a mock incursion of the north by his own soldiers dressed in enemy uniforms and in ‘retaliation’

ordered the execution of a cross border invasion and the systematic bombing of enemy targets deep inside

their country. This the war that had now raged with brief respites imposed by pressure from the international

community for thirty years, without resolution. His country had suffered, he had not been able to be both a

military leader and a good governor of the nation, particularly a nation continually battered by the incoming

missiles and air strikes of the enemy. He was no longer loved by his people, and the international community

hated him; to his disgust not even prepared to accept his right to the lands his enemies had stolen, even

though they had achieved that through violence and war!

 

As for himself, he had become isolated, alone even while surrounded by people. No one could understand

what it meant to be him, though many wanted to and he was continually looking over his shoulder. Hemmed

in by bodyguards, confined to armoured limousines and buildings obsessively checked by security. Never

alone, but reduced to a human object to be protected by those around him, as long as they continued to be

paid well enough. His mother had died, his sister was married, and his younger brother had been killed at the

front. He had no friends.

 

 

He did sleep for a while and was gently awoken by a steward who poured him coffee and offered him a

variety of options for his breakfast. He chose the egg and bacon grill so favoured in the West; on previous

similar visits he had found it the best thing about being in the West. An hour later the Jumbo landed. He was

shadowed by his guards to Arrivals where they met a smiling dark haired man who had already collected the

President’s baggage from reclaim. At this point, as agreed, the President nodded farewell to his escort. On

this trip he was to be alone. This was point which had worried him deeply, and along with the complete lack

of agenda provided by his host government, he had deep doubts as to whether they could live up to their

reputation as expert facilitators of negotiated peace. He followed the dark haired local through the external

doors of the airport where the man indicated a black Mercedes car pulled up near the taxi rank. No

indigenous guards in the car, just the one man. He was surprised, concerned, but supposed the one man he

had been allocated must be an expert at his job. Luggage loaded he climbed into the back seat of what

seemed to be an unconverted vehicle while the driver climbed in the front and quickly drew away from the

curb. It had been clear from the few words exchanged that they both spoke English. Once underway the

President asked his driver,

‘So, I assume you work in security for your government?’

‘Not really, Mr President, I’m a pool driver for the politicians, and was simply asked if I’d collect you this

morning and take you to your lodgings for the week.‘ The President hid his surprise as best he could.

‘So we will be going to the Grand Hotel, or The International, I assume?‘ He profoundly hoped so, as a

top class penthouse in a fine hotel was some compensation for the gruelling days of talk and negotiation; and

he expected a discreet companion might also be provided for the evenings‘ relaxation’.

‘It was considered sir, I believe, but I’ve been asked to take you to a nice house on Hillside Road. More

discreet, sir.‘ The president nodded, a good security decision and doubtless the house was guarded; doubtless

bugged too.

‘I assume the house has the necessary emergency retreat?’

‘I’m not that well informed, sir, but I believe they have a canopy to cover the patio out back when it rains.’

Completely non-plussed by such a bizarre, and frankly impertinent, reply - which he would mention to the

appropriate minister - the President said no more until twenty minutes later they arrived on Hillside Road

and stopped in front of a quite large, wooden house fronted by a large lawn and a tarmac drive on which

stood two small cars. It was one of maybe fifty or more houses that he could see on either side of the quiet

road. To his horror, the front door of the house he was to stay in was open and a small girl was standing on

the doorstep eating an ice cream.

His driver clambered out from his seat, opened the door for The President and then slipped behind the

car to retrieve the luggage from the boot. After a moments pause, and a customary glance all around his field

of view, the President climbed out of his seat onto the pavement. The little girl on the doorstep stared at him

open mouthed for a moment and then ran into the house shouting, ‘Mummy, Mummy, he’s here!’

 

His hosts turned out to be an attractive, blond haired couple in their thirties. They introduced themselves

as Michael and Chloe Peters. The small girl turned out to be their daughter Jannice, and after a few

moments an energetic boy of perhaps ten charged into the house from the street holding a football in the

crook of his arm, and offering his own jovial welcome. He was called David. In all, none of them seemed to

have an feeling for his station or authority, and yet they were inviting him into their own home. He could only

respond with polite thanks. Then immediately Chloe offered him coffee and went into the kitchen to make it.

To his astonishment Michael asked his son to show the President to his bedroom and then carry up his bags.

Being urged up a narrow wooden staircase by an uninhibited and enthusiastic boy, was near beyond his

experience, and he simply followed his guide into what was to be his room. The door was open, there was no

security lock, nor any alarm that he could see. He stepped through the door after the child to find himself in

a sunny room, with wooden blinds and blue drapes at the windows, a good sized bed, an armchair, and a

desk to work at. The boy hoped he liked it and told him that the bathroom was next door, the toilet the door

on the left after the bathroom. But what perhaps shocked The President more than anything were three

posters on the wall. One of some kind of rock music star, another of a footballer, and a third of a fit and

muscular young woman fighting a dragon with a broadsword in an improbable landscape.

‘Those are my big brother’s,’ the small boy explained. ‘Mum thought about taking them down, but Ben’s

back home soon after you have to go, so she thought she’d best leave them. This is usually his room you see,

but he’ll be really pleased that you’ve slept in it; you’re even more famous than Pele! Will you leave him a

souvenir please?’

 

Nonplussed, the President smiled. He could at least recognise the duty of hospitality, even from the mouth

of a child, and if he seethed inside with all that he would be saying to this nation’s incompetent and

irresponsible government the following day - or even earlier - he contained himself and went back downstairs

with the boy, to be greeted by Michael in the hallway who took him out through the back of the neat and

orderly house to the patio, where Mrs Peters and coffee awaited him.

 

 

‘I am very grateful for your hospitality. I am surprised by this arrangement, but I assume you are

government officials or security people, and that the house is indeed secure?’ Mr and Mrs Peters looked at

each other for a moment. Michael answered,

‘Well, I’m a marine biologist and my wife’s a structural engineer. But when the Minister of the Interior

asked us if we would look after you for a week we decided we wanted to, and said yes.’

‘And security?’

‘Well, we lock the front door after dark and we do have fire alarms,’ Chloe answered. The President’s

countenance darkened and he drank off his coffee.

‘I will be honest, Mr and Mrs Peters. I am here on an important mission concerning the negotiation of

land and perhaps even peace in my country. I am confounded and I must say angry at was has happened to

me since I arrived in here, and I must demand to see the Minister of the Exterior and his team of negotiators

immediately, and also have this absurd lack of security rectified.’

‘I understand, Mr President’, Mrs Peters replied, shockingly speaking out first in the presence of her

husband, who didn’t seem to mind. ‘We expect the minister here in thirty minutes, and I’m sure he will

explain everything. In the meantime, can I offer you some food, or would you like to smoke a cigar here in

the garden? And if I might be so bold, please do not concern yourself regarding your safety. You are safe

here, we need no security.’

‘Young woman, I assure you that after thirty years in my presidency I know a great deal more than you

about the need for effective security. I am sure at least that you can give me access to a gun.’ Mrs Peters

looked at her husband. This time he answered,

‘We have no guns Mr President. It is illegal here for anyone but the military and police to carry a gun. I’ve

never even held one, only ever seen one or two on security guards’ belts at international airports.’ He paused,

and then added, ‘it does mean we have no gun crime.’ At that moment a clutch of young girls charged out of

the house, across the patio into the lawned back garden, yelling their heads off with glee for no apparent

reason. Jannice brought up the rear. Out of breath, she paused briefly to tug at her mother’s sleeve.

‘Can we have juice and sandwiches please, Mum? We’re all starving!’ And then she ran off to the join the

melee on the lawn where one girl had found a water hose and having turned it on was now soaking her

companions.

‘Excuse me, Mr President,’ Chloe said with a wry smile. ‘I think I’d better make some sandwiches and get

a few towels ready.’

 

The minister arrived on schedule, alone, and in what appeared to be his personal car.

‘Mr and Mrs Peters, lovely to see you again, and so many thanks for supporting the government in this

work. Mr President, an honour to meet you again, perhaps we can all sit on the patio and share a drink. A

green tea for me please, but I think Mr President might like something a little stronger?’ And he smiled.

‘I’d like a large vodka,’ the President replied, little humour in his voice.

Over the next hour, the minister explained his government’s thinking on the President’s visit.

‘We think it best you spend a little time experiencing our way of life, and then we’ll have two days of

discussion with ministers and experts after that. In the meantime, Mr President, be assured of your safety,

take a note of my phone number if you need to reach me at anytime, and I will leave you in the safe hands of

 

Mr and Mrs Peters. Unless anything else arises, a car will collect you on Thursday and I will meet you at

Government House ... And now I must go: a lady a few miles away has asked me if I’d discuss government

policy on pensions with her. My last call tonight, and I’m hoping to get home for a barbecue with family and

friends before we lose the sun!’ And with that he was gone. The President was completely confounded. He

asked his host for another Vodka.

 

 

Over the next four days, in something of a disorientated daze, the President accompanied the Peters

family on a mountain walk and picnic, a visit to a supermarket where a vast range of produce from around

the world was available to buy at prices the Peters, and evidently many others, could afford, a classical

concert in a local church, and a British movie concerning the English Queen, Elizabeth the First. He had

been interested in the politics of her reign. On the final day he had been dragged two streets away from the

Peters’ house to a flat field to play football with David and a group of his friends. He’s found that he still

remembered a few moves from street games in his youth, and when he scored a second goal, the young boys

had piled onto him in mock protest, whilst David himself looked him in the face as he lay on the ground,

pinned by his friends, and said,

‘You’re too good, Mr President. You’ve got to let us win sometimes!’

 

 

The stay with the Peter’s ended. It had been like a holiday. He had changed a little, but travelling by car to

Government House, the troubles, concerns and tensions of his ‘real’ life began to rise up in him afresh. When

he stepped into the meeting he had anticipated from day one of his visit, he found himself in a small room,

with just ten ‘experts’ to talk to who offered him a warm welcome. When they had settled, the minister

chairing the meeting addressed him with an unexpected question,

‘Mr President. After spending four days with the Peters family, do you want war or peace for your people

and their children?