Friday, August 06, 2010

A story of wheat.

Today flooding in Pakistan is causing devastation and death; while on the same land mass, Russia bakes and has just forbidden the export of grain. Wheat prices have risen in consequence.

This has made me think of another rise in wheat prices, almost 200 years ago. This one was due to something more tangible than the vagaries of the weather system. In 1815 a volcano called Tambora in Indonesia exploded. The resulting ash and dust masked the sun, and the following year was known as the year without a summer. It seems like the world took years to recover. Then, in 1846, the potato blight put pay to the other food staple. People starved, and those on the outer fringes of this island - the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh - migrated.

The Irish and the Scots went, famously, to the United States, Canada and Australia in sufficient numbers for some of their culture to remain generations later. The Welsh also migrated, but within a generation they found that a most important aspect of their culture was lost - their language. This is why they went to Patagonia. It was the most remote part on the planet they could find, hundreds of miles from any other European civilisation. There, they reasoned, the Welsh language and culture was likely to survive.

They are still there, speaking Welsh, five generations later. They dug ditches, planted tall poplar trees and converted a barren cold desert into an oasis, eventually winning prizes for their wheat. From a shortage of wheat to a wheat triumph. The story of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia is maybe an optimistic one with a message: with determination even the most bleak-looking odds may be overcome.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

A lovely post about what generated your lovely book - have emailed you my response after reading it. Loved it!

Sun Aug 08, 12:27:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank you Kay! You are so kind. You've made me so happy...

Sun Aug 08, 06:23:00 pm  

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