I am not a number, I am a free tree!

Today we went to the National Museum of History at St Fagans, a village on the western outskirts of Cardiff. They’ve recently revamped their visitor centre and we wanted to check it out and to visit the famous castle that is situated there.

The outdoor museum is spread over a one hundred acre site emanating from the castle and consists of reconstructed buildings from all over Wales, including farmhouses, chapels, shops, a woollen mill, a blacksmith and many others. It’s definitely worth a visit since it does throw some light on the kind of places people in Wales have lived and worked in over the centuries. The visitor centre alone is a gem; it’s been well designed and is a lovely airy building full of space and light, though this is partly because it is still in development and they haven’t crammed too much stuff in yet.

We found our way to the so-called St Fagans Castle – the former home of Lord and Lady Windsor as far as I could tell from the kitsch memorabilia propped up in some of the rooms. It doesn’t look like a castle and in fact it reminded me more of a prison with dark dingy rooms and a dank stink of rotten privilege and oppression. I came out of there strangely disturbed due to the nauseous feelings it stirred up in me. If it was up to me I’d blow the bloody monstrosity up and let the ruins decompose into a sickly sculptural reminder of how inherited position and privilege is a disease that has infected society for too many lifetimes.

I would probably have crumpled into a gibbering wreck if I hadn’t escaped when I did. And it really did feel like I was escaping; it was as if I was connecting with a version of myself from a previous life who had once worked there as one of the servants and I imagined that self doing a runner from the hellhole before dawn in the dying days of the nineteenth century when Lord Windsor’s power was at its terrible peak.

Today, as I looked back at that monstrous building from a safe distance across the ornamental ponds I felt utterly relieved and imagined that former self bounding off into the wild Welsh mountains to commune with mystical nature spirits.

As I bathed in the relief of my escape I noticed a huge beautiful tree which probably existed at the same time as that previous incarnation of myself; it had a tiny metal plaque screwed into its bark.

I am not a number, I am a free tree! *

The little oval of metal had been stamped with the number ‘0014’. After that I noticed similar plaques with different numbers screwed to other trees and wondered if they felt as trapped as I had and whether they would like to uproot themselves and head off into the hills.

Then I realised that they were trees and didn’t have the disposition to move anywhere other than where they had first sprouted from the earth, but I still hung on to the idea that they might resent being tagged with a silly scrap of metal. I guess I needed to make a connection to ameliorate the awfulness of the feelings stirred up by that dreadful monument to greed and inequality.

* This is a reference to the 1960s TV show The Prisoner.

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