The writer Horatio Clare re-tells the legend of Twrch and Trwyth from the Mabinogion, bringing to life the myths of the Brecon Beacons...
Have you ever seen a group of people sense threat? Something spreads though them like a shiver. The group is more intuitive than the individual, if less decisive. When I started at the Daily Wales I assumed they'd have the internet, which came in when I was at university, but when I asked how you logged on they looked frightened and said if I wanted to know anything there was the cuttings library. The office was all smoking, so the whole room was a stinking mist swimming with beery sexism you wouldn't believe nowI'd just started, so they called me Newsbird'. The computers were weird things on metal stalks like something out of Flash Gordon, green flickering screens and strings of keyboard commands you had to learn because there was no mouse. The editor was a small, terrifying man everyone called Giant Jim, who seemed turbulent with internal violence. The news editor, my boss, known as Tiny Andy, lived on the verge of rage. They ruled the lines of sub-editors, reporters, feature writers, specialists, section editors, their teams and the whole empire of the sports pages. And the internet swept them all away. It's a hotel and apartment complex now, the site where the building stood. What remains of the paper comes out of a building they put up on what used to be the carpark. The interesting thing was the way the internet did for them all. It fed off something which came from them, which was already beginning to rule those old newsrooms when I started, and which has almost wrecked the world now.
We gathered in Giant Jim's office. Tiny Andy gave the orders.
The County Echo, Fishguard's finest, did a piece about two wild boars which escaped from a lorry. They were coming from Ireland on their way to a menu. We've had twenty calls this morning from readers wanting to know if they've been caught, if they're OK, if they're dangerous. Some lunatic has offered to buy them and give them sanctuary. It's on the wires, the London papers are after itmy mate on the Mirror says the train from Paddington is full of hacks. Far as I'm concerned, these pigs are on the run in Wales, we're the national newspaper of Wales, this is our story. The splash is Daily Wales Scoops the Worldpictures of these pigs, full interview, and then a picture of them being handed over to this nutter to spend the rest of their lives in clover. Got it? Bigger than Chernobyl. Nick, you're on it, Newsbird, you're on it, Marcus is your snapper, Dangerous Dave can drive you. What are we going to call them?
Twrch and Trwyth, I said.
From the Mabinogion. Wild boar that laid waste to Ireland. They swam over and King Arthur chased them through Wales until they were all killed. The biggest, the Twrch, ran into the sea off Cornwall.
Not just a pretty face! Right, Nick the Quick, you're King Arthur, Newsbird, you can be Guinevere. Martin, you get that story of the Twrch ready for the last edition today. Ancient Myth Boars Ravage Wales. Newsbird, keep phoning in, we want the whole chase. Go get em. Bring home the bacon.
Or don't bloody come back, said Giant Jim.
Twrch and Trwyth had been seen on the Preseli mountain. Dangerous Dave kept the car above a hundred on the M4, Nick the Quick ate Wotsits and smoked, Marcus fell asleep on his camera bag. World Joins Boar Hunt was the first piece I phoned in. The farmer who had last seen them was pinned to his front door by cameras; his yard was full of TV trucks; one of the tabloids had hired a helicopter; there were French and Japanese reporters interviewing his kids and neighbours. I had never seen a full media storm before. It was insane. And then it started to get weird.
The boars were seen at Whitland, then on the Black Mountain. We got close enough for Marcus to get a picture. Someone from the Western Mail almost got a loop of rope over one of them and it charged him. The RSPCA shot a bunch of tranquiliser darts at them which all bounced offvery thick-skinned, those pigs. Bulletproof Boars', The Sun called them. The tabloids were rabid now. One reporter bought some pigs' trotters from a butcher and used them to make tracks for her rivals to follow. They all had bags of nuts to tempt the quarry, as if wild boar might suddenly start behaving like Labradors.
That night we were put up in a B&B. Nick had a bottle of whisky. I was having doubts about my new profession.
Helicopters. Satellite trucks. The Iranians and the Iraqis are gassing each other. Why aren't they covering that?
It's not news. Five hundred people you've never heard of aren't news. One you have is.
But wild boar!
Animal stories, birds with their knockers out, drunken celebritiesthat's money. It's all about the reptile brain.
Anything that makes you think dirty bastard, naughty slag, cute kittythat sells. You're selling a little hit of dopamine in the reptile brain.
Later, in a tiny cold bed reading up on the Twrch, I saw it. Preseli, Whitland, Black Mountain. I had to read it a few times and tell my reflection in the mirror that I wasn't mad. Then I woke Nick.
He read it a couple of times too. Are you telling me these pigs are following the same route as the boar in the myth?
No, the Mabinogion is telling you!
Three in a row?
Bollocks, definitely, he said, but he woke Marcus and Dangerous Dave. We headed for the Amman Valley, the next place in the myth, just in case.
A sodden dawn, the bracken and the grass all sopping with dew and rain, the sky over the valley a boiling grey cloud, and the two black shapes coming up out of the trees. They had a mass, like a dark weight from an older time. Nick, who had a catching pole with a loop of rope on the end and dreams of a job on a tabloid, ambushed them. He got the loop over one and it charged him and Dangerous Dave. There was a wild struggle and Marcus got some great shots of the boar dragging Nick and Dave up the hill, and the other boar coming back to help its mate, and Nick and Dave screaming and running back down. The pigs fled up the valley, one of them trailing the catching pole, and I phoned in my best piece yetArthur and Knight in Boar BattleWorld Exclusive By Guinevere, as Tiny Andy ran it. The Daily Wales circulation was up across every edition, he said, subscriptions were up, we were making our names.
They went over the tops to Llyn y Fan Fawr, which is definitely the eeriest place in Wales, a cliff plunging down to a lake of dark stillness, a falcon screaming, mobbed by crows, the feeling of nothing changed since the last ice age. We caught up with them again, but this time the one with the pole looped around it actually charged us and gave Dangerous Dave a slash in his left calf. They're evil! It was trying to kill me! he cried, as he was carted off to hospital.
Tiny Andy was delighted. Just what you want at this stage of the story, plucky heroes turn psychotic killers, he said.
Now Wales and the world was divided between Twrch fans, who thought they deserved their freedom, and Twrch haters, who wanted them with apple sauce. I convinced Nick we shouldn't let on about the coincidence' of the route because it was keeping us ahead of the pack. When we'd caught them we could reveal how we had done it. By now the rest of the papers had decided I had some special hotline to the preyGuinevere the Boar Whisperer was born, and I was doing phone interviews with radio stations and being chased by cameramen. The Mail offered me a lot of money to defect to them, but I wasn't going to be bought, not yet.
The showdown came near Talgarth, in the country of the Ystrad Yw, as the Mabinogion calls it. A small wood, a ring of hacks, who had now started following us, Nick the Quick and Marcus, two guys from the RSPCA with dart guns, and the boars. We got one. Tiny Andy had sent two rough boys from Brecon Rugby Club to help secure the captives, which he had purchased from their Irish owners for an undisclosed fortune. Twrch got away again and Trwyth was slung in the back of a Landrover by the rugby boys. We got away and hid the boar in a pen on a farm near Eywas Harold. Before it had even woken up Nick had filed his exclusive interview, in which Trwyth revealed how he and his mate had come to take revenge on the descendants of King Arthur in Wales, and that they deemed only Guinevere and Sir Nick worthy of capturing them. The nutter turned up with a horsebox and Marcus got a shot of Trwyth sweetly sleeping in a pile of straw, on his way to the pastures of rest. We set off after the other.
Now the papers split, and the country with them. The Sun ran a piece with a picture of Dangerous Dave in hospital and the gash on his leg blown up to cover half a pageArmy Hunt Killer Boar. The Express, The Times and the Mail howled for the destruction of Trwyth and the shooting of Twrch. The Independent kept an animal rights line, and The Guardian, after much vacillation, thought a cautious capture and a resumed journey to the abattoir would be best. Only the Daily Wales, stoking flickering nationalist sentiment, kept the heroic escapees lineand technically they were our boar, the mascots of the paper of Wales, Trwyth as fierce as a Welsh scrum, Twrch as elusive as our fly-half. The right-wing press hired their own gunmen. Vigilantes with shotguns scoured the hills. Mail readers stopped taking their children to school.
It's madness, I said to Nick, we've created madness.
We've created anger, fear and righteous indignation, he said, that's the first step to power. Bonuses, promotion and prizes next, you wait. You ought to do more TV. You could do anything thenbecome an MP!
The end came on the Gwent Levels, near where the M4 lifts up towards the bridge. South of the road, towards the sea, is a still miraculous country of creeks, water meadows and tidal flats. The myth has Twrch fighting Arthur at Llyn Lliwan, which seems to have been a mystical lake or a flooded plain near Caldicott. We were in the right area on the evening when the call came.
There was the boar, plunging through mud and water, racing across the marsh grass. Behind him were men with dogs, men with rifles and tranquiliser guns, men with shotguns, photographers, journalists and a crowd of readers, a ragged hunt baying and yelling, getting in each other's way, out for blood and copy, which they call content' nowadays. The shots and darts missed. The photographs show Twrch
plunging into the sea and swimming out into the waves until he disappeared. No one saw him go under; he was lost to sight in the greys of tide and twilight. I was glad they did not get him, glad that his end was unknown.
Marcus drove us back to the office and the front page was held while Nick did the full-drama piece of Twrch's last flight, and I completed my great big backgrounder', telling the story of how the boar's flight had accorded exactly with the Mabinogion tale. When it was done I pressed send. It came up on Tiny Andy's screen. He read it. He called me over.
OK, Gwinny, he said, (I had been promoted from Newsbird'), I'll run it because you've put so much into it and it's too late to find something else. But we'll bury it inside. People don't want to wade through all this stuff, it's too complicated. We're saying that we have just witnessed the re-run of an ancient myth? Save it for the universities and books nobody reads. Death and disaster is what people want.
It was a long time ago, now. But death and disaster is what we gave people, until they lost their sense of hope and history, replaced it with a longing for a glorious past that never was, and exchanged reading for clicking, and feeling for thinking, and news for entertainment, until one day they looked up from their screens and realised death and disaster were all around, and that lies and the appetites of the reptile brain had brought it down upon them.
The Wild Boar Chase' is one of the short stories in Horatio Clare's book Brecon Beacons Myths & Legends. Published by Graffeg June 2017. Illustrations by Jane Matthews.