Wales has significantly more varied topography than the environs of Sawston and at least one of the reasons for this is down to the underlying geology – at home, crushed dead sea creatures (or their skeletons – the reticulated pseudopodia have, sadly, mostly been lost over the aeons) whereas here igneous and metamorphic rocks (where any original material has been subjected to some serious heat and often pressure too).
This conjunction of factors leaves the wire-free modern world struggling in mid-Wales. Finding any viable mobile phone signal is a challenge – my greatest success so far was some 450m up the north face of Cader Idris where I had full 3G service and maximum signal strength. (I probably had access to 100% of the bandwidth too, as there were very few other potential users around – unless sheep are on 3). Sadly, I am unable to report on the signal at the summit, as the clouds descended to 500m, and my ascent was cut short – I climb for the views, rather than the purely to boost my gravitational potential energy.
Any sort of relief can block mobile signal, but I suspect the local rocks may exacerbate this effect. My holiday gaff is stone-built (and the stones look local to me, and why would you import grey stone when you can’t move for the stuff?) and whilst it has wifi provided, its range is limited to a single room – the walls block any broader distribution of high frequency radio waves.
Talking of grey stone, I can understand why the Welsh would use this abundant local resource for construction (in years gone by, the unfortunate impact on wireless surfing was, presumably, unknown) but it does tend to make the local towns and villages rather grey – some might say dismal or depressing, especially in the wet (though, I feel it gives a real sense of place). What I find harder to understand is the local predilection for applying grey pebbledash (worse even than the more common brown variant) to so many modern dwellings – which only adds to the encircling gloom. Why not permit a little colour? Even the red of a few un-pebbled bricks would add a colourful accent to most local metropoli. Aberdyfi does have a few brightly painted buildings – perhaps trying to get a starring role in a new CBeebies series (those old Balamory tapes must wear out, or date beyond utility, one day) – but this is very much the cheerful exception. Come on Wales, pay the extra for a colour license!
But, back to the plot. In flatter lands (as opposed to the setting for Edwin Abbot’s most famous romance), young people seem rarely to look away from their mobile phones – largely ignoring their current surroundings and companions. How, I wondered, do Welsh children cope? Do they spend all their leisure hours, huddled against the wind and rain, halfway up a local mountain communing with their e-friends?
Earlier in the week, I went north using the amazingly cheap local trains (of the Class 158 DMU, rather than heritage steam variety – which do cost an arm and a leg). I do worry about the financial viability of Arriva Trains Wales with such inflation-busting fares – maybe the quantum effects experienced on my journey here allow them to achieve economies, with a single super-posed DMU simultaneously providing the rolling stock for multiple services. Both journeys were shared with local youth travelling to, and then from, their places of education – and so I could see signal-free young people in action. They seemed happy and well-adjusted and quite willing to talk to their physically proximate companions (and, indeed, the guard). I think employers should be made aware of this pool of young people with a viable attention span – with Welsh youth in charge, I would feel much more confident in the funding of my pension in my twilight years (and, no, moody vampirism is not my post-retirement plan).