I bring us to y hanner lle–– a half-place of the village. We begin sat on a ledge where a window may be, our legs hanging like a baby in a baby chair, to see what’s around, beyond, about. We are looking out to the fields from a glassless opening in another kind of opening–– a doorless, roofless one. We see straw barrelled into round, pulped bales. Expanse. A derwen tree to the left. Grass and grass and morfa blades upright, ready to be cut down by retired farmer Dewi’s tired son. I then lead us to look in at pieces of hardwood on the floor made puffy with water after years of rain. Gathered leaves that look like shadows. Y hanner-lle is a ribcage of concrete walls with wind rolling through that have been appearing in jumpcut-like shoves for a decade. As a child, I passed by, blinking at the magic trick change from a group of piled bricks to what I now call walls. I’d spend the walk to the bus stop asking my parents about when a hole becomes a window, and when parts become a whole, and when a whole becomes a house. In my polyester Ysgol Gynradd Llandysul school uniform, I tried to make sense of structures I thought I’d inhabit one day in some way. The words are blurry but heavy here––Teulu. Family. Traddodiad. Tradition. Disgwyliad. Expectation.
Later, we climb into another part––traversing a series of hallways. Light the colour of a harvest wanders the walls and we tackle terms for the hanner-lle that stunt its growth on this page and on this Fferm Cwrt land. Talking about hanner-lle seems to crack open language. We trip over terms like grit, laying and relaying each word like a breezeblock– framing, rotating, securing, leaving, dismantling. Words like ‘in’, ‘out’, ‘through’, ‘between’ don’t seem to fit when the place we talk about is a place unfinished. Without a ceiling, there’s no ‘under’. Without a door, there’s no ‘in’. Stopping and starting and stopping and starting. Changing course. Rephrasing. Revisiting. Thinking back to abandoned buildings, we picture places left behind, half-lived ––we don’t imagine buildings half-built and then left unlived in or, at least, I don’t. Hanner-lle, unlike a rundown mansion or empty cottage, stands as a reminder for locals of unfulfilled prospects and unmet desires. It makes me feel the way I do when I see someone waiting in a restaurant for a guest that never arrives.
Maybe I like hanner-lle because I can walk through it. I try to avoid symbolism, but I always approach this half-place. I like to watch it crumble apart like the meaning trapped in between the Dewi children's Wenglish descriptions of their futures, back when the hope was new and not sad. Back when we lay down after school, looking at the sky from the rectangular puddle of cement they called y lolfa and said “––when we tyfu up we’ll have our own families on this lle too. We’ll be big enough to see trwy any window onto the fields where we’ll still be farming llaeth for everyone's tea. And our children will live in another lle on our tir over there”.
Time to clear up.
Where I come from, farmers start to lay down breezeblocks on plots when their children reach adolescence. The first bricks are arranged in an outline of a house, and these hanner-lle’s, these half-places, resemble houses in the way a square with a triangle does ––tô, roof, waliau, walls. The components act as representations of ideas far bigger than any building. (Again, symbolism). They’re an extension of the family on family soil. They tell children, neighbours, locals and passers-by that tomorrow is thought for and that the future is on its way. They display a tangible faith in traditional families, traditional roles and traditional lives - Mam. Tad. Two or three children. Sheepdog. Tractor. Fire burning in the winter. Something I’ve only become aware of since moving back this year is that being twenty three years old without a husband or a home is a sign of failure to locals ––a sign of a half-person–– and I’ve enjoyed building alternative lives between the walls of this hanner-lle.
But where’s the family that was meant to fill the hanner-lle, we wonder? The husband and wife and children? We piece together the answer as we piece together the language, and decide not to ask because we already know it’s unromantic and bleak.
“Nid yw'r ffordd o fyw hon yn gynaliadwy mwyach”, a “nid oes unrhyw un yn prynu lleol mwyach” a “nid yw ffermydd ar gyfer pobl fel ni bellach”, “nid ydym yn tyfu hynny bellach”.
Instead, we half-listen to hearsay about the hanner-lle.
We hear that the daughter drowned in the Afon Siedi.
We hear that the son was taro gan tractor.
We hear gofynnodd i rywun to marry him ond they said ‘na’.
Clywsom iddi redeg i ffwrdd i fod yn lleian.
We like to play pretend with the hanner-lle, and fill in the gaps ourselves.
Today, I walk around the half-place and watch a loose pipe for water-to-come-one-day roll about in the wind, bouncing against the walls and then fill with water falling from the sky. I pick it up carefully and pretend it’s a mug of tea with fresh milk from the cows outside. I call down the hall for dinner, and the theatricality of it all makes me think of film sets; of walls made with cardboard and windows made with plastic. Of half-places made only to be pretended in. Then, I think of James in the 1999 film Ratcatcher, as he gets off the bus at Balmore Road - the end of the line. He finds a skeletal, unfinished house on a new council estate in the countryside and rattles among scaffold poles, breezeblocks, wood crates, ladders. The young boy walks between dust covered walls and detached appliances, in quiet. He navigates the lay of that half-place with ease and awe. He pisses in the unplumbed toilet, and wee leaks onto the floor from a gap at the base. A puddle gathers. He lies in the plastic coated bath and a long sigh leaves him. Gold light filters in. Warmth. The outside and the inside crossfade. Then, plastic breathes out with the wind that comes through a hole in the wall where glass is promised and it blinks like water. From horizontal, James folds to turn the detached tap clockwise, miming the end of its running.
After this, he walks to the window-place.
His legs swing over, he jumps onto the empty field, and then, away.
The scene clings to my memory like the dust covers that drape across that half-place on screen, and I think about it as I go through the hollow hanner-lle in my village. I look at unplastered walls, and the hole for a roof, and the empty doorways. I look to the ceiling, and see nothing but sky (the most un-nothing thing in the world). I think about ‘dim byd’, which when half translated, means ‘no world’ but when fully translated means ‘nothing’. I think of what’s lost in this half-place between language.
I raise my arms and feel the rain fall in, around, on, over. I watch it collect on the floor.