I have always spoken Welsh. I grew up bilingual. My mother didn’t speak it much, just to dogs and small children, but it was my father’s beloved first language. It is musical and lyric and a pleasure to speak.
The ancient tongue’s names for the autumn months are an echo that tumbles down the years for me. I would have first learned to write them at the top of the page on the blue-lined paper of my school book.
With experience the months came to signify freshly shined shoes, revisited woollen clothing and the cordite tang of sparklers before the dull dread of the constraining, unknowable winter to come.
Medi (Meh-dee) has a deceptive softness that eases us into the slump of cooler air and shorter days, a gentle word of fading colours and regret. An airbag that cushions us from the impact of seductive summer-warmth crashing into cold fronts, waning sun glittering on drab rain, green hedgehog skins concealing shiny chestnut conkers. It coaxes us into leaving bright, open land for the shelter of a narrowing, shadow-cast valley.
Hydref (Hud-rev) a shiver down the spine on colder mornings. A door flung open by tree despoiling winds scattering the remnants of warmth to the deepest corners. The fug of a packed pub after a rugby match — damp overcoats steaming in alcoholic warmth. Unkempt grass, a shower of sycamore seed helicopters, stews and bonfires and the skirl of flying leaves. The year’s valley darkening, enveloping, consoling.
Tachwedd (Takh-weth) brutal, darkly looming, funereal menace. Dim glimpses of pale sun, misty dragon breath. Skeletal umbrellas, scraping windscreens, sap sinking. Fire, smoke and the closeness of whispers. A cosy, familiar ache signalling the threat of winter is near, inevitable. A damp warning to seek comfort, your expectations flattened, the outdoors shrivelled, diminished.
Since I first learned these words in a thundercloud darkened classroom with the lights on in daytime I have come to appreciate how these three short months prepare us for winter, gradually lowering our expectations and acclimatising us to the otherworldly drabness to come.