Dewi Sant



Selected memories

of a childhood

lived in Wales

Island View



Central New Brunswick Welsh Society

This book of memories is dedicated to the members,
all the members,
of the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society.

Our Welsh heritage binds us and draws us together.

May these memories lighten your hearts and bring you joy.


Clare Moore

The cover design is by Clare Moore, a free lance designer and multi-media magician. It is based on a painting by David Brewer of a Celtic Cross. This one is in fact Irish, but Celtic Crosses like this are very similar to the ones found in Wales. My thanks go to Clare, my wife and companion, for designing the cover.

David Brewer

My good friend and colleague, David Brewer, has played with Celtic imagery for over twenty years. He now has a studio / print shop (Rabbittown Press) in his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick. A reverend in the United Church of Canada, he has also taught with the Irish Studies and the Fine Arts departments at St. Thomas University. My thanks go to David for allowing us the use of his painting and for suggesting us some of the questions the answers to which appear in Question Time.

Brenda Sansom

I would like to pay special tribute to Brenda Sansom without whom, none of this would have happened. I would like to thank her for the initial invitation to read and then for the encouragement and support she has given to the entire project. My thanks also go to her for suggesting some of the questions the answers to which appear in Question Time.


Introduction: From Dream to Reality

About this book

Spring in Wales

Summer in Wales

Ten Welsh Poems in Prose

Autumn in Wales

Winter in Wales

Question Time

From Dream to Reality

          These history notes have been taken from the Newsletter published by the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society.  They were provided by Brenda Sansom.

After 1819, and for a number of years, the Baptists of Cardigan, N.B. worshipped in people’s homes. The present church was built in the 1850’s and was a “mission” church of the Fredericton Baptist Church (now Brunswick Street Baptist).  While repairs and painting have been carried out at various times the building was, by the 1980’s, in great need of restoration.

In the 1980’s John and Isabel Hildebrand began discussions with several families living in Cardigan  as well as the Atlantic Baptist Convention. Assurances were made that if a responsible organization were properly constituted, then the church property would be transferred.

It was also during this time that an ad appeared in the local paper inviting anyone with Welsh connections to a meeting to consider forming a Welsh Society. John and Isabel attended this meeting as did Prof. Peter Thomas whose research and writings about the Cardigan Settlement were well known.  There was considerable support among those in attendance and a decision was made to form a new organization under the leadership of Dr. Barry Jones.

The society was formed in 1988 with a specific interest in restoring the Old Welsh Baptist Church in Cardigan Settlement.  This resulted in the establishment of the New Brunswick Welsh Heritage Trust as an arm of the Society.  The Board of Directors of the Society are also the Board of Directors of the Trust.

Over the past two decades the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society has endeavoured to fulfill its purpose to promote an appreciation for the Welsh culture and heritage. The church property has become a focus for the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society and has been recognized as a Heritage Site by the Province of New Brunswick.

About This Book

For me, born in Upper Killay, on the Gower Peninsula, the cyclical year of the seasons in Wales, begins and ends with Dewi Sant, St. David’s Day. And for many of the people of Wales, Dewi Sant, St. David’s Day, represents the end of winter with its long dark nights and short days, and a step towards the brighter days of Spring and Summer; for St. David, the patron saint of Wales, whose feast day falls on the first day of March, is the first of the springtime series of national saints. St. Patrick (Ireland) is celebrated on March 17; the spring equinox occurs on March 20 / 21; and St. George (England) is feasted on April 23.

Brenda Sansom, the organizer of the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society Dinner (2010) asked me if I would be willing to speak to the Welsh Society, after their annual St. David’s Day dinner, on the subject of Winter in Wales.  The ancestors of many members of the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society had left their homes in Wales in the early 1800’s. They all knew what a Canadian winter was like, she said, but most had never experienced a Welsh one. I thought about this request for a day or two and then replied in the affirmative. From that conversation, the fictional memory Winter in Wales was born.

I had the honour of reading this memory to the CNBWS on Sunday, April 30, 2010, in Aggie’s Restaurant, Island View, just outside Fredericton. After the reading, I was asked if I could put the story into print and circulate it to the membership. I immediately said I would. Then, Brenda Sansom called me and asked me if I would be willing to get it ready for June 2010, to be circulated to the Society at the Annual Founder’s Day meeting at the little Welsh Church in Cardigan. I agreed to do this. But, I had been thinking: if many members of the Society knew little about Winter in Wales, what then did they know about the other seasons: Spring, Summer, and Autumn?
This book was written in response to that question. The book consists of these paragraphs, a brief history of the founding of the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society, two memories Spring and Summer, ten prose poems (which have been published previously), and two more memories, Autumn and Winter.  The book closes with a short piece entitled Question Time in which two pre-publication readers, Brenda Sansom and David Brewer, suggest questions which might be relevant to non-Welsh readers of the text. Hopefully, my answers to those suggested questions will assist those readers who do not share with me an intimate knowledge of the South Wales I knew and in which I grew up.

My style of writing in these memories is relatively easy to follow. It helps to remember that these are personal memories, slightly fictionalized, which have flooded back to me, in rather disjointed fashion, but in a similar way to which dreams occur when they arise from the depths of the subconscious to flit rapidly through the mind. The result is a rather breathless hustle and bustle of images and words that throng the mind, are quickly seized, paint sometimes vivid pictures, and just as quickly vanish. If you follow the punctuation, you will easily grasp the linked chains of image and thought.

Spring in Wales

Spring in Wales comes very quickly.  Sometimes, if you blink twice, it has gone again. But usually, you take a step outside the door one morning and suddenly there are daffodils everywhere. And they all come so early, crowding together like party-goers, tossing their heads in the bright yellow sunshine, and the whole world green and yellow, like the round yellow eye of this first blackbird, whistling on the garage roof or on a branch of the apple tree which is suddenly covered with a warm green fuzz of threatening leaf ...

... all so early, I say, and the countryside yellow with daffodils by March the First, St. David’s Day, our Dewi Sant, and especially in the Castle Grounds and Blackweir gardens, where the daffs grow wild and cluster beneath the trees, like huge, enthusiastic, rugby crowds, clapping and waving at every passing moment, and all the leaves on all the trees are just starting to sprout and there’s a pale, watery sun, but the wind is still fresh with the daffodils all tossing their heads in sprightly dance ...

... and you can walk the dog in Blackweir Gardens without a winter coat and without your wellington boots, though it’s as well to wear thick socks and good, stout shoes, just in case there are still puddles and the autumn leaves that fell last year may still be wet and soggy and slippery after their winter out in the rain and snow and the Feeder Brook which used to feed the Old Castle Moat, drained now, and no longer a stock pond for trout and carp,  is running strongly and quite fast, all the way down from Taffs Well ... and the gurgling weir is beside you as you walk, with the crunch of the gravel beneath your feet, the song birds starting to sing, the nesting birds pairing up and starting to nest, and always the daffodils, the Taffodils as they sometimes call them in Cardiff, Caer Dydd, as they write on the busses, with the river Taff flowing there, just above you, as you climb the embankment and the River Taff flows beneath you now, all black and swift and deep and swollen with the end of the winter rains ... and the Taff cradles as it flows the finest of fine coal dust and carries it down to the sea ... and the fish and eels are born eyeless, so the fishermen say, as they measure out the length of the whoppers that got away, because nothing can be seen in the River Taff when it’s as black as that ... and in places you can walk on it, they say, it’s so laden with coal dust from the worked out seams of the nearby Rhondda, and what use are eyes in a river where the coal dust is impenetrable and the water’s like a dense black stew ...

... and spring is Easter and Easter is when the Barbarians Rugby Football Club make their annual Easter Tour of Wales and the southern part of Wales is rugby mad on Good Friday, and we have just been released from the prison camps of our schools for the Easter Holidays, and in our new found freedom we go to Penarth where the Sea-Siders, as we call them, play against the Baa-Baas, as we call them, and we park the car at the top of the hill near the centre of Penarth, and we walk and half run to the playing fields down at the bottom of the hill, squeeze ourselves like toothpaste, in through the gates, squeeze ourselves small in the gathering crowd and there they are, the mighty Barbarians, 14 internationals from England, Ireland, Scotland, and occasionally France or South Africa,  and standing firm against them, the men from Penarth, 15 average tiny Welshmen, perennial losers, doomed to their annual failure, but not today, as Bernie Templeman, “Slogger” to his friends and intimates, kicks a penalty and drops a goal, and the giants are shunted all round the park and almost off the scoreboard ... and we shout ourselves hoarse and it’s Penarth 6 and the Barbarians 3 ... and all that international strength and might vanishes, Goliath felled by David on a damp Good Friday night ... in the spring time, in my childhood, in Wales ...

... and on Easter Saturday, we stay in Cardiff ... and we have tickets for the stand where you don’t have to stand at all, but can actually sit in luxury ... and my friend’s dad has a friend who has friends who have season tickets ... but they have just won the football pools and they have left Wales and are travelling around the world on a cruise ship, and they have left us their tickets, their wonderful tickets in the stands, and we sit on the half way line and watch this magnificent game where they, the Barbarians, have fourteen internationals and a school boy who will one day be an international, but we have fifteen internationals because this is Cardiff ... the best club side in the world ... and this is the Capital of Wales ... and we are playing at Cardiff Arms Park, at the ground where my father played and my grandfather before him, and we are watching history, and family history, and everyone who plays for Cardiff also plays eventually for Wales, and my father came here, like my grandfather, as a visitor, not part of the home team, and Swansea were the champions back then, not Cardiff, and my grandfather played for Swansea, way before the First World War, and my dad ...

...  well, I don’t know much about him and his rugby because he changed from rugby to soccer because my mother’s family, who all had English and Scottish blood, thought rugby was dangerous and they wanted him to play soccer, so he did, and he broke his ankle playing soccer and never played sports that well again, though he was a great sportsman, more than 6 foot tall, yet I take after my mother and I’m tiny like her, and “much better to have had a girl, with him as small as he is” some neighbours said and others said “Don’t worry; he’ll grow!” but I never did and so I became a runner not a rugger, but my father’s side of the family could never understand why I wasn’t out there, like my father and my grandfather and “A good little ‘un is just as good as a good big ‘un” they used to tell me, so I played occasionally, especially in the spring, and there they were, giants at six and seven foot tall, and there I was a dwarf, a pigmy, at five foot tall, and it’s lies they tell you sometimes, myths and lies, because five foot can never match six or seven in spite of everything they say about a good little ’un ... but this is Cardiff and Cardiff always wins and win we do ... and we all go home happy ...

... but on the morning of Easter Sunday we set  out for Swansea and the bungalow in Bishopston, where we will spend the night, and we have our knapsacks on our backs and in our knapsacks we have our sandwiches and our snack bars and our bathing trunks, and we’re all ready for that first Easter visit to the beach ... and we catch the train at Cardiff General and go from Cardiff General to Swansea High Street, and when we’re in Swansea we run to the bus station and catch the next bus, the next brown and yellow Swan bus, and it takes us out along the Mumbles Road, and up the Mayals, and over Bishopston Common, which is still open land and not the least bit enclosed, and there are skylarks rising early in the morning, and cows, and ponies, and sheep, and sometimes they are found wandering on the road that crosses the common, but not today ... and we leave the common and rush through the narrow lanes, at breakneck speed, and the trees lash the bus windows with their branches, inches from our faces, and we duck as the leaves smack the glass in front of us, even though we know the windows are there and the leaves can’t touch us ... and at Pyle Corner, we leave the bus and it’s down through the lanes, and it’s out to the bungalow which hasn’t been opened yet, and we’re the first there, so it’s light a fire and warm the place up, and dry the mattresses, and get the damp out of the one bed we’ll sleep in, all of us, and then it’s down to the hard stone beach at Pwll Ddu, and we wander on the shore fully dressed and dare each other to swim as we wander across the pebbles and yes, we decide to do it, to strip, and the wind turns us blue and there’s nobody else there, just us, and it’s Easter Sunday, and the sea-gulls are daring us to take off all our clothes and bathe naked in the naked sea beneath a naked, cloudless sky ...

... and it’s not as warm as we remembered it from last year, and the wind whips our naked flesh and turns it blue and we run up and down trying to keep warm and then we plunge into the icy water and the water must be a degree or two warmer than the land, but it’s still cold in the water and even colder when we come out ... and I remember now that my grandfather was a member of the Swansea Polar Bear Club and swam, each Christmas, in the docks at Swansea and also on new Year’s Day and he must have been mad, even if he did join a club of equal nut cases, ‘cos we’re freezing, I tell you, and this is Easter Sunday, not New Year’s Day, though the year is new enough for us and the cycle of the seasons is just beginning, and the old year ends with winter and the new year starts with Easter, and this ritual turning blue as though we were all daubed and tattooed with woad, and the annual, ritual dip lasts for about two seconds, two seconds of total immersion, like baptism, with your hair wet or it doesn’t count and “Watch out!” there’s someone coming down the cliff path and we’re no longer the only ones on this beach and we leap into each other’s clothes just to have something on when the others arrive, whoever they are, these neighbours, these nosy neighbours are ... and “Skinny dipping. were you?” they say, “We’ll tell your ma, we will.” “You can’t she’s in Cardiff!” “Well we’ll tell your grandma then, she’s still in Swansea, I saw her at the market yesterday, and she’ll tan your backsides -- should be ashamed of yourselves, bathing naked on Easter Sunday.”  “Aw, don’t tell gran; remember: you were young once!” “Yes! I was; but I didn’t run naked on the beach on Easter Sunday!” ...

... and it’s back to the bungalow with everything soon forgotten and the bungalow is warmer now, from the fire and the woodstove, and you know automatically where everything is, the oil lamps, and the wood fire stove, but there’s no electricity and we have forgotten to get water and unless we drink rainwater from the barrel it’s down to the end of the field, with its single tap that feeds and waters the whole field, 26 summer houses and only three of them occupied, two by people who live there all year round, and one by us, now, at Easter, and the neighbours drop in to see we are all right ... and we talk and they help us to trim the wicks and set the lights and one of the neighbours comes in and helps us to make a pot of stew on the wood stove, a Welsh stew with potatoes, and cabbage, and onions, and carrots, and a bit of meat they lend us so we will not be tempted to use the piece of old dry smoked bacon left over from last summer, and hanging still from the rafters, out of reach of the mice and the rats who have taken back their empire and scuffle and scrimmage each night, like Barbarians, over the roof and through the walls ... and we can hear them at midnight, as they travel the pathways they have built around us ...

... and we can also hear the cows, out in the field all night, as they rub their bodies up and down against the bungalow walls, and there are fresh cow pats where they have sought human company and the warmth of the fire because it’s cold at night even though it’s spring and when Monday dawns, first  it’s breakfast and Brandy Cove, where the beach has changed shape after the winter storms ... and all the paths are slightly different, down from the cliffs to the sand, and we are not the first, for there are new paths and footprints and one of our neighbours is there in the cove with his canoe which he paddles all winter, every day, at full tide, in Brandy Cove at first, then out round the headlands to Caswell and Langland, Pwll Ddu and Three Cliffs and we don’t know now that one day he’ll go out on that tide, but he’ll never come back, and they’ll hold a funeral for him, but they’ll never bury him, because they’ll never find his body ... and this year, again, he’s all sun tanned and brown and doesn’t look at all like one of us, we white skinned boys, with our sunless winter skins not yet exposed to wind and sand save for that one appearance yesterday that blued us as if we were dyed in woad,  as if we were ancient British warriors and the old Celtic Race was reborn in tattoo and blue ... and fearsome we are, we warriors, we blue men, marching up Snowdon with our woad on, never minding if we’re rained or snowed on, and slap us on the chest and we are all bowmen they say, and the spring is here and the summer campaigns can be planned, but first, it’s back to the bungalow, finish up the food, clear everything away, make sure the fires are all out, lock all the doors, and off down the lane, we go to catch the bus back into town, the brown and yellow bus that was once driven by my great-grandfather, not in bus form, but he put a plank in the back of his truck and he gave people lifts, and this was the first informal transport system, ages and ages ago, long before the First World War, and everyone knew him and everyone knows me, but me I have left ... and I don’t know anyone any more ... but they all know all about me ...

... and we get off the bus at the Swansea Recreation Ground and we walk to St. Helen’s for the game, because today Swansea play the Barbarians and my uncle is there and he used to play for Swansea and he’s in his usual place ... we know just where to find him ... and we stand by him and talk to him and everyone is wearing something white today, because Swansea are the Swans when they play soccer and the All Whites when they play rugby and Cardiff play in Cambridge Blue and Black and I cannot remember the colours worn by Penarth, because we only go there once a year to watch them and nobody in the family ever played for them ...

... and Swansea is great because the stand is low and players can kick the ball over the stand and then the little boys, which is what we are in the eyes of the grown ups, though we think are big and tall and Celtic Warriors, quite capable of bathing at Pwll Ddu on Easter Sunday, with nothing on, which the grown ups would never think of doing, well, we little boys are told to run and get the balls which have been kicked over the grandstand out into the street where the Mumbles Railway still runs, right beside the Cline Valley Line, and all the traffic is stopped because the balls are rolling around and the boys are chasing them and whenever the grown men get tired of playing and need a breather, why, one of them kicks the ball over the pavilion roof and I can remember in the cricket season when a ball was hit over the pavilion roof and it landed in a coal truck that was passing on the railway line and it travelled all the way up to North Wales where it was discovered, lying on the coal, and the grown ups all said that we boys had stolen the ball, until it was discovered, a week later lying on the coal ... and I can’t remember whether Swansea won or lost, but I think they won, because I don’t think the Barbarians won anything in Wales that year, and that night after the game it was back to High Street Station and back up to Cardiff General on the train, and the next day was Easter Tuesday ....

.... and the holidays are almost over ... but on Easter Tuesday, the Barbarians play Newport in Newport at Rodney Parade ... and nobody in the family likes Newport, because the people from Newport are neither English nor Welsh and they change allegiance and go with whoever’s winning, England or Wales, and they move in and out of Wales, playing for England when the Welsh don’t want them and they can’t get a game with our team ... and we don’t like that ...  so nobody trusts them and you can see people from Newport playing on the English side, in white, with a red rose on their shirts ... but Ken Jones wouldn’t do that ... and he’s from Newport ... and he’s fast, very fast, and he’s got an Olympic bronze medal for sprinting, and the crowd all sing the Skye Boat Song, except the words are different and  they sing “Speed, bonny boat, like Ken Jones on the wing, onward to score a try!”

... and although we’re meant to support Ken Jones and the Newport team, we secretly support the Barbarians, but not too loudly, because there are some big, and I mean big, Newport supporters close by us, so we don’t make too much noise ... and I can’t remember that game either because Rodney Parade isn’t very nice and nobody from my family would ever think of playing for them ...

... and Wales, as I remember it, was still very tribal ... and people in Newport, Cas Newydd,  live on the border, and by the border, and we’re never sure which side of the border they’re fighting on, and that’s totally prejudiced and unfair, and politically incorrect ... but that’s also tribal warfare, so there! ... and it’s perfectly fair to support the Barbarians against Newport because in the folk lore, of that part of Wales, at that time, well, the people of Newport were Barbarians ... and they didn’t know whether they were English or Welsh ... and they were mixed breeds, mongrels, Heinz 57’s ... and they kept the pubs open on Sundays too ...

... ah well, most of those things happened a long time ago and they’re all forgotten now, the rivalries, the family feuds, but some things you never forget ... like Easter and the Barbarians Tour of Wales and the daffodils in the Castle Grounds and Roath Park in Spring and Blackweir Gardens ... and suddenly, so suddenly, Easter Tuesday was over ... and it was back to school ... and the holidays were done ... and Easter was done ... and those are my memories of Spring ... in Wales ... where the blackbirds still whistle and sing on the garage roof ... and all the world is yellow with gorse and sunshine and all those Taffodils ...

Summer in Wales

Summer in Wales is always as I remember it: glorious days of sun and sand and blue skies and warm winds ... and especially the sun on the beaches with the water sparkling and little boys and little girls playing cricket on the dry wrinkled sand packed hard when the tide goes out and leaves the land stranded ... and uncles and aunties bowl under arm, not over arm, so the little ones could an lots and lots of runs ... and I remember us, standing breathless between the wickets, or at the wicket, if there was only one set of stumps, or a picnic basket stood on its side, or three pieces of driftwood, with sea-weed for bails, and what are bails, you ask?

Well, bails are the sea-weed that is draped over the driftwood that stands as stumps. And we guard our stumps with the cricket bat that somebody has brought and we bowl with wet tennis balls, because nobody will risk a red, leather ball on the sands, with the wet tide standing there, waiting for the ball to be hit at it, or into it, and it’s cold, but not that cold, and when uncle hits the ball, right out so sea, someone has to run after it, then dive, and then swim after it, and if it’s real runs you want, then uncle runs two or three quite quickly; then the aunties tell him to stop running so fast or he’ll have a heart  ... so he slows down and trots four or five; then he walks six and seven; and when you throw the ball back, he’s walking eight or nine; and then the dog intercepts the ball, catches it in his teeth, and starts running around with it in his mouth and everyone is trying to catch the dog except my uncle who is now limping very, very slowly between the wickets, but he’s already up to eleven or twelve; and then the little ones start crying because “It’s not fair!” Loud sniff! Then uncle stops in the middle of the wicket and sits there, waiting for somebody to run him out; except everyone is tired, except the dog, who is tireless and completely energized, and now the centre of attention; and nobody is going to catch him;  and finally uncle walks to the wicket and he lifts the piece of seaweed with his bat and everybody appeals, then he’s finally “OUT!” because officially he’s hit his own wicket and that’s illegal and now the game can go on once more, with everyone happy and God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world ...

... but it’s watch out for the dog, for the dog gets everywhere because he’s on holiday too and everybody’s on holiday in this little sea side town and the cousins have come down from London with their cockney accents, born within the sound of Bow Bells, though they’re half Welsh by blood, though you wouldn’t believe it with those incredible accents which nobody can understand ... and they’ve never seen the sea, though their mother was born here, beside my mother, beside this self-same sea which has never left and which still flows in and out, even now, and it still flows through my bones and “Look at all the water!” my youngest cousin cries and then he really cries because London, the capital of England, is concrete and tarmac and all petrol smell and smog and fumes and busses and he’s never ever seen the sea, the sea’s open spaces, the wide open arms of the bay held out to embrace you with Swansea Docks on the left, a working area of ships and shipyards where my grandfather labours and takes me on workdays, even in summer, and shows me the ships and his friends and everyone is happy and laughing because it’s summer and it’s hot and there’s lots of employment and the banana boats are lining up in the bay, at low tide, waiting for high tide, when they can enter harbour and be unloaded and this happens all year round, but it’s really in summer, when the sun is as yellow as the bananas, that the banana boats become significant and we show them to my cousin who has never seen the sea nor the banana boats, though he knows what a banana is and where to buy them and what they cost, but he never knew they came in on these boats, these great white summer boats, from Africa and the Caribbean,  with their funnels all yellow and their bright stripe of blue, Elder and Fyffe, and the boats all lined up in the bay and look: to the right there’s the Mumbles and the Mumbles has a pier and a playground and you can go out and walk on the pier and at the end there’s the life boat and life boat has a slipway for the life-boat to run down into the sea to rescue people who are shipwrecked, but only in winter because in summer the sea is calm and shiny and it runs in and out twice a day, like an obedient dog, and why is the beach wet? Because the sea weed ... and the pier is a world full of wonders, with its peep shows and its games and the old men fishing off the end, chatting and gossiping, and not ever worrying about whether or not they catch the fish which many of them throw back anyway, so they can catch them again tomorrow  ...

... and speaking of fish, there are the fish nets on their poles stretched from horizon to horizon, at low tide, and the fishermen in their waders walk out to the nets where the mud is squishy from the sewage system which dumps all the sewage in Swansea bay, but the tide is younger then, and stronger, and there aren’t so many people, so the beach is always swept clean by the tide, and the sewage is always swept out to sea ... and the fish are nice and fat and healthy and you can buy a couple of whiting or flounders, dirt cheap, and bring them home, if you ask nicely, and plaice and sole, well, they’re all flat-fish, really, and our cousins can’t tell the difference between them, but we can, and I’d tell you, but it’s so long ago, that I’ve forgotten, and it’s partly size and partly colour, and I forget so many things now ...  but I don’t forget the sea as it licks at your toes, and you standing there, early in the summer, as white as an ice cream, and the sea climbs up to your ankles, and then your knees, but on Swansea Sands, at the Slip, or at Brynmill, you have to walk miles and miles before it reaches your waist ... especially when it’s out and low ... but you have to be careful for there can be deep holes and the mud can be slippery ... though nobody ever falls down ... but there are rumours of quick sands out there at low tide, out beyond the fish nets ...

... and once when we went to Pwll Ddu, to the Black Pool, in English, where the stone bank holds the river back and we can sail our boats on the pool and the water is warmer than the sea ... and one day, a long time ago, we saw this snake swimming across the backed up river, between the banks of reeds at the end of the valley, of Bishopston Valley, where the trees meet the salt marsh which leads into the sea ... and he was a big snake, though I don’t remember what sort of snake he was ... and he didn’t have a care in the world, just swimming across the water in the sunshine, hissing to himself, then he climbed the bank with a slither and a slurp ... and was gone as quickly and as mysteriously as he came and we were left there playing, paddling, building dams, throwing stones at lumps of wood and pretending they were enemy battleships, waiting to be sunk ... and playing ducks and drakes ... and making the flat stones, like pieces of slate, slip and skip across the surface, one bounce, two bounces, six seven eight and eight bounces ... and the little ripples on the pool’s surface moved slowly outwards and suddenly my cousin trod on a broken bottle and there was blood everywhere ... because someone had used a bottle for a battleship and had broken it with a broadside of stones ... and we had to stop everything and strap him up and take him home and then he went to hospital and they gave him stitches, eighteen stitches, in the sole of his foot,  and an injection ... and suddenly what with the snake and the broken bottle, we cursed the pool at Black Pool, at Pwll Ddu, the name of which the boys from London could never pronounce, with their different accents and their capital styles, and though they were a part of us, like their mother was a part of us, they weren’t really part of us and they didn’t speak like us and they didn’t have our accents and they couldn’t pronounce the Welsh ... and the neighbours laughed at them behind their backs ...

... and one Saturday morning, early, my second cousin, who was older than us and much more Welsh than any of us, went out with a towel and his father asked him “Where are you going?” and he said he was going out ... and then a couple of hours later, he came back and his father said to him “Where have you been?” and he said “Out!” and his father said “What were you doing?” ... and there was a pause and then he said “Swimming.” ... and it was only later, much later that day, or maybe it was the next, when the evening paper, the South Wales Evening Post, was delivered that we saw in the headlines, on the back page, that he had won the open-sea swimming race that goes from Mumbles Pier to Swansea Docks, and back again, five and a half miles, swimming all the while, and he had won the race, from headland to headland, that his grandfather had won before him, and we were all very proud ... but we couldn’t believe that he had told his father that he was just going out ... and as for me, I didn’t even know he could swim and a couple of weeks later he joined the navy and became a frogman, I think, and I scarcely ever saw him after that, but I remember he won the race ... and he was my boyhood hero ...

... and we would all go down to the bungalow, at Pyle Corner, in Bishopston, and we would play funny games and we would roll in the fields, but we Welsh boys watched where we rolled, because we knew the cows came in and left cow pats ... and we called the cow pats laver bread, because they looked like laver bread, bara lawr, the sea weed we eat that comes from Penclawdd, where the cockles come from ... and wonderful it is, though it sticks between your teeth, and my London cousins rolled down the field, faster and faster, and then they couldn’t stop and they rolled right through the laver bread and were covered from top to toe in laver bread and we laughed so much, we local boys, who knew where the cow pats were, and when to stop, we laughed so much we cried, and then we were sick and the London boys, all covered in laver bread, had to change their clothes and be washed and bathed, and they were beaten soundly and called rude names and had to go to bed early ...

... but we all went to bed early in those days ... and after my grandfather died I slept with my grandmother in her large double bed when I was there on my own, but when all the cousins were there we shared a double bed and three or four of us slept at the top and three or four of us slept at the bottom and we were so small and short in those days that our feet never touched in the middle and the bed was like an earth worm, an eternal earth worm with two heads and no feet, or all the feet in the middle, like a centipede, and sometimes my parents would have to snuggle in with us too, though we scarcely woke up when they arrived and departed, and with tears we would go tired to bed, and the grown ups would promise that it was only for an hour or two, for a little rest, and we were so far north that the summer sun was in the sky until late at night ... but sleep we did and they never woke us up and we didn’t wake up until the dawn chorus of birdsong, bird after bird chirping and singing in the hedge that divided one field from the other ...

... and we were in the first bungalow field, which was the best one, obviously, because we lived in it,  and there was another bungalow field behind us and we could look through the gaps in the hedge and occasionally there were gaps we could crawl through ... but they were well guarded because there was an all out war between the two fields and we didn’t like the boys in that second field and they didn’t like us ... and we fought our skirmishes through the hedge and at the gaps in the hedge and the people in the field behind us would rent out their bungalows to boys with strange accents who would be instant enemies the moment they opened their mouths or heard us talk and vice versa, the other way round ... and it was the silent arrow or spear shot or thrown through the hedge ... and the long trailing root set out to trip the unwary, and once we tied a rope across the field, a trip wire to trip those foreign warriors, and we meant to take the rope down before it got dark, but we forgot and we missed the enemy but we caught my father and all the uncles walking back home in the dark from the local pub ... and didn’t they trip and all fall down ... and the aunties thought it very funny because once they were down, they couldn’t get up again ... and the aunties said it had nothing to do with the rope, that they were all falling down anyway, falling down all the way home from the pub they were, and stumbling ... but we had hoisted our own allies with our own petard and next day we were brought to justice and the justice was severe ... and what, they said, if we had caught one of the farmer’s cows and it had broken a leg and who would be responsible then, to the farmer, for payment, and we all hung our heads in shame for those days everyone was big on responsibility and being responsible was a big thing ... and even the dog, our scout and protector, our war horse and chariot, for we were Ancient Britons that summer, sat there silent and serious and hung his head in shame at the hot bitter words and he wasn’t even wagging his tail ... and the adult jury, twelve sober uncles, tried men and true, all pronounced us guilty and sentenced us to a day without cricket, a day with no jam on the bread, a day in which we must eat up all the greens, a day with no puddings, a day with no sweets, no treats, no ice cream ...

... but summer was ice-cream! Who wants ice cream in winter when the hands are cold and the ice wind blows straight down from the Arctic? But in summer, to rob a child of ice-cream is to commit a capital crime against childhood ... and the ice cream was miles away, and to run to get it and to bring it back before it melted was a rare adventure that had to be carefully planned ... go to the end of the field, run through two sets of lanes, stop at the first ice cream shop and if there was no ice cream there because it had all been eaten by that awful foreign army, run another mile to the next shop and there if you were lucky there would be some ice cream there ... and no we didn’t want cones, cones were for the babies, the tiny children who couldn’t control their ice creams ... we wanted wafers, like the big boys we were, although we were all still in short trousers ... and there were three penny wafers and six penny wafers, and even chocolate bars with thin chocolate on the outside and the ice cream inside ... and there were lollipops and other marvels ... but that day all this was forbidden ... forbidden because we had set a trip wire for the enemy and caught, by accident, our very own men ... oh the injustice of it ...

... and by day we would have picnics at Brandy Cove ... and my grandmother would pack the picnic basket with sandwiches and crisps and pop and a thermos flask or two of tea and everybody would struggle down the lane to the beach ... and we’d sometimes meet the cows in the lane, which we never liked, because they kicked, those cows did, and there wasn’t much room for human beings when the great black and white tide moved inexorably up the lane, or down the lane, between the hedges, and sometimes they would go slow, and sometimes the fly or the milking mood would be upon them and they’d skip and hurry and rush ... and they were fearsome, and Ancient British Warriors we might be, but all of us were scared of these charging cows, unless we were on the other side of the hedge ...

... but once the Lower farm was safely past, we could explore, and climb, and hide in the trees, and ambush the grown-ups, who must never look up and must pretend they neither saw us not heard us even though they could see us perched in the trees, but we mustn’t get into the ferns and the gorse, because there were snakes in there and the farmer’s daughter had been bitten just last week by an adder or a viper and we had to be very careful, even of grass snakes, just in case, so we didn’t go into the gorse and the long grass because we all knew about snakes in the grass and what was the farmer’s daughter doing in there anyway, and her only thirteen ... but beautiful and blond ... and only thirteen and some people aren’t superstitious any more ...

... and from there it was down to the top of the cliffs ... and mind the new blow hole, where the sea has undermined the cliff and there is now a large hole linked directly to the beach and very, very dangerous, with loose stones and falling rocks and the threat of more cave-ins, and down the paths we go, the young ones charging and running, all the way down and all the way back up, while the old ones take the cliff path a step at a time and we have to come back and hold on to their hands and we wonder what’s wrong with them and nothing they say ... just age ... and once upon a time we ran up the cliffs just like you do ... “You never did?” we say ... and we don’t believe them, we don’t believe that they were ever young, like us, and burnt brown in the sun ... the summer sun ... which always shines ...

... and the beach is cricket and climbing ... and we can climb all the way up to the top ... and once we disappeared ... and the tide caught us and we couldn’t get back, and the only way out was up, up the cliff, and half way up, a sea-gull flew out of a crack in the rocks, and we nearly fell back down, into the sea, we were so scared, and then there was a little cave and we sat there crying, the salt-sea on our lips, waiting for the tide to rise to its full, and then subside ... and suddenly the old folk were above us on the cliff top and it was “Oh, Thank God! They’re safe.” And “You stay there now, until the tide goes down.” And we did. But when the tide went down, they hugged us and cried for us and then beat us most severely for be being so stupid ... but we thought we were being brave, although we cried a little, and our ancestors lived in caves and it wasn’t that bad ... except that we didn’t have any tea and there were no toilets so we had to ...

... and suddenly, one day on the beach, it started to rain ... one small cloud turned into a big one ... and the sky became black ... and suddenly, from out of nowhere, a great clap of thunder and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, came showering down and everybody was running for shelter ... into caves ... under cliffs ... under trees, on the far side of the rocks out  of the wind, and the water, and the horizontal tide of rain that brought relief from the heat ... and some of us just stood out there ... under the waterfall ... enjoying the soaking ... watching the water run over our hands, our faces, and our skins ...

... and that summer, like all summers, came to its abrupt end ... we locked up the bungalow, walked up the lane laden with our bags and our packages ... and when we got to the corner, we waited for the bus which would carry us into town ... and we retraced our steps, slowly and tiredly, away from the hedges, the sea shore, the sand and the beaches, and back to the red-brick houses and life in the cities from which we had come and to which we must now return ...

...  and behind us, the salt sea, its bright sailor suit sparkling with waves and glee, waving us good bye from across the headland and away from the rapidly vanishing bay ...

Ten Welsh Poems in Prose

On Being Welsh In A Land Ruled By The English

 I am the all-seeing eyes at the tip of Worm's Head; I am the teeth of the rocks at Rhossili; I am the blackness in Pwll Ddu pool  when the sea-swells suck the stranger in and out, sanding his bones. Song pulled taut from a dark Welsh lung, I am the memories of Silure and beast mingled in a Gower Cave;  tamer of aurox, hunter of deer, caretaker of coracle, fisher of salmon on the Abertawe tide, I am the weaver of rhinoceros wool. I am the minority, persecuted for my faith, for my language, for my sex,  for the coal-dark of my thoughts; I am the bard whose harp, strung like a bow, will sing your death with music of arrows from the wet Welsh woods; I am the barb that sticks in your throat from the dark worded ambush of my song.

To Be Welsh in Gower

 To be Welsh in Gower is to spell it funny and pronounce it worse: Gwŷr. It's to know how to say Pwll Ddu. It's meeting the cows in the lane to Brandy Cove and knowing them all by name and reputation, which one kicks, which one gores, when to walk in the middle of the lane, and when to jump for the safety of the hedge. It's to know the difference between the twin farmers  Upper Jones and Lower Jones. It's to recognize their sheepdogs, Floss and Jess, and to call them with their different whistles. It's knowing the time of day by sun and shadow; it's knowing the tide is in or out by the salt smell in the air without ever needing to see the sea; and now, in this far off land, it's hearing your stomach growl for crempog, caws wedi pobi,  or teisen lap whilst memory's fish-hook tugs at your heart like your father hauled at salmon bass in Rhossili, Pennard, and Three Cliffs.

To be Welsh in Swansea

 To be Welsh in Swansea is to know each stop on the Mumbles Railway: Singleton, Blackpill, the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, the Mumbles Pier! It's to remember that the single lines turn double by Green's ice-cream stall, down by the Recreation Ground,  where the trams fall silent, like dinosaurs, and wait, without grunting, for one to pass the other. It's to read the family names on the War Memorial on the Prom; it's to visit Frank Brangwyn  in the Patti Pavilion and the Brangwyn Hall; it's to talk to the old men playing bowls in Victoria Park. It's to know that starfish stretch like a mysterious constellation, at low tide, when the fishnets  glow with gold and silver, and the banana boats bob in the bay, waiting to enter harbour, and the young boys dive from the concrete pipes without worrying about pollution.  

            But when the tide turns, the Mumbles Railway has been sold to a Texan, the brown and yellow busses no longer run to Pyle Corner, Bishopston, Pennard, Rhossili; sweet names of sand and tide,  where my father still fishes for salmon bass, casting his lines at the waves as they walk wet footprints up the beach to break down the sand-castle walls I built to last forever on the Swansea sands.

My Welsh Grandmother

If I close my eyes, I can still see the wallpaper in her kitchen, the cracked black wood of her old Welsh dresser with its upright plates, the flowers on her apron, the curlers in her hair, the very bend of her body bent over the ironing board. I can still count her three cats Un, Dau, Tri, as they lap their milk from their saucers. Six o’clock: time for the news! The cuckoo clock whirs its arrows from the dark wood of its ambush and they pierce my skin. Each one wounds, the last one kills! But who really knows what that last arrow brings? Life’s greatest joy, perhaps: my grandmother, her health and youth renewed, standing upright like some glorious flower picked out by a sunbeam in the dark wooden depth of the kitchen where she taught me how to cook? And everywhere, the unforgettable smell of white fish, boiling in milk, almost ready, like the cats, for supper.


Wales is whales (with an aitch) to my daughter who has only been there once on holiday, very young, to see her grandparents, a grim old man and a wrinkled woman. They wrapped her in a shawl and hugged her till she cried herself to sleep suffocating in a straitjacket of warm Welsh wool. So how do I explain the sheep?  They are everywhere, I say, on lawns and in gardens. I once knew a man whose every prize tulip was devoured by a sheep, a single sheep who sneaked into the garden the day he left the gate ajar. They get everywhere, I say, everywhere. Why, I remember five sheep riding in a coal truck leering like tourists travelling God knows where bleating fiercely as they went by. In Wales, I say, sheep are magic. When you travel to London on the train, just before you leave Wales at Severn Tunnel Junction, you must lean out of the carriage window and say "Good morning, Mister Sheep!" And if he looks up, your every wish will be granted. And look at that poster on the wall: a hillside of white on green, and every sheep as still as a stone, and each white stone a roche moutonnée.

To be Welsh on Sunday
(This prose poem should be read out loud, fast, in a Welsh accent, and preferably in a single breath!)

 To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life,  that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart's desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting  indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer,  at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing  soccer and cricket and it's "Watch your beer, Da!" as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until "Time,  Gentlemen, please!" and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship's bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers' Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher's, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow,  The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers -- God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Welsh Walls

I remember little Willy, the mad boy at the end of our lane, whose cries of “Uh! Uh! Uh!” were the closest he came to speech. His presence still haunts me for my father and grandfather made throaty sounds ‘Uh! Uh! Uh!” to chide me whenever I did something wrong or disobeyed the dictates of their adult world, their grown up world that layered cement on top of the high brick wall, that inserted bottles in the still wet cement,  that waited for the cement to dry, and then smashed all those bottles with a hammer and locked little Willy, the boy with whom I must no longer play, into a high-walled cage whilst I watched and waited and knocked at the door and asked politely: “Please: can Willy come out and play?” But my only companion was his wild sound “UH! UH! UH!” flawed words torn with clawed hands from his throat and floated like invisible butterflies over the cruel glass jest of the wall they had built between us.

To be Welsh in Castell Coch

 To be Welsh in Castell Coch is to call the storm crow Bran and to hail King Arthur in his suit of feathered armour. It's to know you're in Annwyn when you descend to the dungeons. It's to see Merlin's eyes, looking out from the oak tree where he is trapped forever in his oaken jail.  It's to watch rain clouds sweep in from the sea; it's to see black armies gather in the valleys when storm clouds wage blithe battle; it's to feel the arrow's sting, as hail rattles through the window. Cloud battalions, invaders from the coast, march towards us over the Wenallt  and down Caerphilly Mountain. Now, from the highest tower, you can see Taff's Well: but only the Welsh, who have swum in that river, can taste the coal grit in their teeth as the river flows down to Cardiff, through Sophia Gardens, and out to the sea.

To be Welsh in the Rhondda Valley

To be Welsh in the Rhondda Valley is to change busses at the roundabout in Porth; it's to speak the language of steam and coal, with an accent that grates like anthracite -- no plum in the mouth for us; no polish, just spit and phlegm that cut through dust and grit, pit-head elocution lessons hacked from the coal-face or purchased in the corner store at Tonypandy.  And we sing deep, rolling hymns that surge from suffering and the eternal longing for a light that never breaks underground where we live out our lives and no owners roam. Here flame and gas spell violent death. The creaking of the pit-prop warns of the song-bird soon to be silent in its cage ... and hymn and heart are stopped in our throats, when, after the explosion, the dust settles down, and high above us the black crowds gather.

In the Cave
Brandy Cove, Gower

 No: I do not understand these things. I have had few visions; no bush has actually burned for me. Though I have sat in this cave for many a day there has been no thunder, no earthquake,  and no thin, small voice has called my name. I have only heard the wind and the waves and the sigh of the sea-birds endlessly flying. Who set the curlew's cry between my lips? Who dashed the salt taste from my tongue? I will never forget the wet sand foaming between my toes nor the cracked rock crumbling under my hand ... yet I never fell, nor was I trapped by the sea below.


Autumn in Wales

Autumn in Wales ... well now, let me think: autumn was conker season and the national anthem overnight turned from Land of my Fathers to Eye-tiddley-onker... and singing or saying it first -- : my first conker  -- allowed you to challenge anyone who had a conker and that was always fun, but not so much fun as getting your conker from the conker tree, the horse-chestnut tree, with all its conkers spread across the upper branches, much too high to reach, of course, because all the lower branches had already been picked clean, so you had to throw sticks up high up into the tree at the loftiest conkers in order to bring them down to earth, but it wasn’t much fun trying to catch them as they fell because they came in their little green autumn jackets with prickles all over them and if you grabbed them in the air, then you got the prickles in your hand and that wasn’t a great idea ... though it didn’t hurt all that bad ... especially if you wore gloves ... so up in the air went the sticks and down came the conkers ... then there was  a mad rush to pick them up off the ground and to prise open their bright, green jackets ... and there they lay, the inedible fruit of the horse chestnut tree, a lovely, rich brown chestnut colour, young warriors dormant  in their little green beds ... and that was step one ...

... and step two was to prepare them for battle ... and there were ways to prepare conkers, secret family ways, passed down from generation to generation ... some of us baked our conkers in the oven ...  others soaked them in vinegar ... or oil and vinegar ... before we baked them ... and still others left them out in the sun or on a window ledge to slowly dry out until they were hard and vicious and great warriors which could conquer other conkers ...

... and step three was the hole ... you had to bore a hole through the conker so as to be able to thread the string ... but if the hole was too big, then the conker would split the first time it was hit; but if the hole was too small, either the string wouldn’t go through, or the string would be so thin, it would break or cut your hand; and if you let your conker out of your hand, and it fell to the floor, then your opponent could, in certain variations of the game,  stamp on your conker and shatter it as it lay there ...

... and step four was to go out in the street and find another boy who also had a pocket full of conkers and to challenge him to a conker fight and as soon as you spotted the tell-tale bulges it was “Eye-tiddley-onker!” and if you were quick enough, that gave you the right to strike first .... and he must hold his conker by the string, steady in his hand, for swirling or spinning or swinging the waiting conker wasn’t fair, and you took your own conker, held the string between the index finger and thumb of your right hand, if you were right-handed, the conker in your left hand, between your index and your middle finger, and, when you were ready you flexed and tightened the string and you released your conker, just so, and whacked his conker with yours ...

... and if his conker broke, then you won ... and you gathered all his conker points ... and if yours broke, well, he won, and he gathered all your conker points ... and you usually started the season with a fresh conker ... and when you beat someone who also had a fresh conker, why, then your winner was a oner, and then, when you won again it was a two-er and a three-er and so on ... and as the season lengthened, so the conquering conkers, the survivors, climbed to the mythical scales of a twentiy-er, a thirty-er, or even a one hundred-er ... and it was rumoured that one boy, a local hero and figure of myth, had a thousand-er, but he never showed it, and he never challenged anyone, nor permitted anyone to approach that mythical monster, which he called William the Conker after William the Conquerer, and he told us he had given it its name and retired it after it got to 1066, for that was a propitious date for William the Conker, who was a one thousand and sixty-sixer ... and had a full human personality and was talked about in admiring whispers ...

... and we all knew who had the best and toughest conkers ... and some thought stamping was fair and others thought it was cheating and you had to agree in advance whether you would stamp on another’s conker if it fell to the ground, and there were seconds and negotiators and famous players and great giant famous conkers, like William the Conker, that conquered everything and remained unconquered ... and some were brought out to fight day after day while others sheltered in the safety of their retirement ... and bets were laid and when the champions fought it out there were spectators, and it was never fair to play against the girls, because the girls always baked their conkers better than we did so we avoided them, but they too had their champions and being beaten by a girl at conkers wasn’t much fun and it was rather shameful in fact, so they had their leagues and we had ours and we tried not to mix ...

... and then there was Guy Fawkes night and as the evenings drew in, all the rubbish in the gardens was gathered together for bonfire night, remember? of course you do: “Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot!” ... and out in the allotments and the back yards and gardens, all the dead vegetation, the leaves and the branches and the old tomato shoots and decayed flowers were gathered and piled, and on top ... well, there was nothing on top as yet, because we first had to make our guys ... and we borrowed a pair of old pants from my grandfather, and my grandmother cut off all the buttons and saved them in her button jar ... and then we borrowed a shirt for the body, and a stocking for a head and face, and an old cap or a trilby, if we could find one, and we filled the shirt and trousers with everything we could find that would burn, newspapers, old leaves, straw, pieces of wood and sawdust, but nothing heavy, because when the guy was ready, we placed him in a wheel barrow and we wheeled him around the neighbours and the family crying out “A penny for the Guy!” and people gave us their hard earned pennies and half-pennies, even their farthings ... and because they knew I could sing, they would ask me to sing, so I sang “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, please to put a penny in the old man’s hat; if you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do, if you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!” and the old ladies would croon and kiss me and hug me and their precious pennies would enter the old Guy’s hat or the empty can or bottle that we put in the wheelbarrow to collect our coins ... and then, bit by bit, we would save up: three pence for a Roman Candle, two pence for a jacky jumper, a penny for sparklers, four pence for a small rocket and sixpence for a great big rocket, and the cabinet beside the bed would slowly fill up with fireworks all ready and waiting for fireworks night and when I had nothing to do, I’d go upstairs, and lay them out on the floor and count them and plan the order in which they would be lit ...

... then, when the Fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Day, finally dawned, well, we knew we had to wait all day because we knew it was no good lighting the fireworks and the bonfires until it was dark ... but what a wait it was and we spent the day worrying: were there enough fireworks? Did we have as many fireworks as the neighbours? Were our fireworks better than the neighbours?  Did they have that big “Golden Fountain” that cost a whole shilling? Someone had bought it from the local shop in the Uplands: but who had bought it and where was it? And where were we going to pin the Catherine Wheels this year? And who could we frighten with the Jacky Jumpers?

... and the chorus went on and on: “When will it get dark?”  “Soon.”  “How long?”  “Soon.”   ... and of course it got dark eventually, but we would stand on the doorstep and watch each spark of a star as it appeared in the sky and “Is it dark enough now?” we would ask again and again, driving our parents and our other relations frantic ... and finally it got dark, after supper, oh dear, and supper was such a nervous affair: is it dark enough now and can we light the bonfire now? and can we light a sparkler? Or a flash-bang? Or a whizz-bang? Just one? Please! PLEASE! Just one!

For days we had been watching the weather forecast, and the wind direction and sometimes bonfire night fell in the middle of the week and sometimes it fell on or close to the weekend ... and if you were in town, all the neighbours would sometimes get together and build an enormous bonfire on one of the old bombed building lots, with its grassy mounds, no walls, and nothing to set on fire and then we’d pool our fireworks and that was fun because the show lasted so much longer and everyone was there and the bonfire was so much bigger when five or six or more families all stockpiled their rubbish ... and then too, there ‘d be more than one guy ... and if the bonfire was big enough, someone would have to get a ladder and place the ladder against the bonfire and lift the guys up, one by one and set them on top, perhaps in sequence, and the one at the top, like a king, on an old three legged, broken chair ...

... and the significance of what we were doing never really struck home ... Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot, we all learned about in school, but what we did was play and we burned the effigies of Guy Fawkes -- Guido Fox -- the man who tried to blow up Parliament -- so long ago -- but we didn’t really associate those burnings with our burnings ... nor did we ever think that what we were doing had been done for years and that real people had mounted these fires and had been tied to stakes and burned to death with protestants burning catholics and catholics burning protestants and the whole world ablaze with witchcraft and ducking stools, heresy and bonfires, burning and anguish ... because if you can’t see what’s in a man’s heart or his head, then there’s only one way to get it out and that’s torture and the flames ... and we haven’t changed that much really, over the years, have we ... and it’s a shocking thought that our childhood games were once an adult reality ...

... but we didn’t think that way and the rules that night were simple ... sparklers for the young kids ... the older children could light the safer fireworks, the roman candles and the jacky jumpers, nobody, on pain of exile to the bedroom, with the windows shut and the curtains drawn, was to tie a jacky-jumper to the tail of the cat or the dog, though that was done, and the poor animals would leap and race down the street howling and mewling with a firework tied to the tail, and sometimes they were badly burned, those poor cats and dogs who suffered so, though we laughed at their sufferings and better a cat or a dog than a man, and we meant it, but not in the way the grown ups meant it, especially the men, for they had been through the Second World War, and had seen Swansea burning, and had lived through the Blitz, and then there was the bonfire ... and it was splendid and the matches were struck and the bonfire was lit and the smoke rose slowly skywards, and if it was one of those damp autumn nights, then the smoke was heavy and thick and hardly rose at all, and if the wind changed or kept changing as it sometimes did, especially on or close to the coast, then everybody was moving around the bonfire, this way and that way to get out of the smoke and when the Guy finally caught fire and went up in a blaze of smoke, why everybody cheered ... and there were sausages on sticks and sandwiches and ginger beer and dandelion and burdock and other kinds of pop handed round and then it was fireworks time ... and the rockets were set in bottles, milk bottles as I remember, and up they went, though I also remember the milk bottle that toppled over and the rocket that streaked down the street, parallel to the ground, and went through a neighbour’s open legs at the speed of light and sound, and that’s when my cousin started aiming the rockets at people, and he was beaten for that, but he said it was an accident, though it wasn’t, because apparently he’d been practicing and had become very accurate and could hit the neighbour’s dog if it wasn’t looking, though that particular dog was very wary and kept an eye on everything, if he was allowed out that night, because many people locked their animals in the house on Guy Fawkes night because people like my cousin were nasty and couldn’t be trusted ...

... and the bonfire would slowly burn down, settling itself with a grunt and a snort and a shuffle of sparks, like a noisy, fiery sun, until only a bright red bed of twilight ashes remained and we weren’t allowed to walk on the ashes, though I did once, by mistake, a day or two later, and they were still warm,  and burnt right through the soles of my shoes and that was another beating, because the shoes were new and my best and weren’t bought for walking on bonfire ashes but for walking up the aisle in the local village church on Sunday ... and for wearing with my Sunday best ....

... and one time the autumn turned rainy ... and all the bonfires were put out by the rain ... and all the ashes were soaked and soggy and a terrible mess ... and I never knew who cleaned up the bonfires, but I’d come home from school one day, and there was nothing left of all that glory, but a fire burnt circle in the garden, and everything gone ...

... and then we had the autumn mists ... the sea mists and the river mists ... the valley mists and the hill fogs ... and sometimes you couldn’t see anything at all, not even your hand in front of your face ... and sometimes the mists rose up from the river bed and you could hear the voices of men who had fought and died, a long time ago, in battle after battle, against the Romans and against the Saxons, and there were local heroes walking in those mists and local warriors, but we were afraid, and at night it was the cat’s eyes guided you, the little cats’ eyes planted in the middle of the road that reflected the headlights of passing cars, and up and down the valleys, those heavy autumn mists drenched you, as you walked through them and chilled you to the bone .... till back home to the house you went ... and you placed lumps of coal, carefully and scientifically, just so, on the fire and the fire blazed up, like a bonfire, but under control and you sat in close by the fireplace, with all the doors and windows shut, and the curtains drawn ...

... and then you watched the faces in the fire and you talked to the people you saw there and you watched the salamanders as they danced silently on the coals and logs ... and you imagined pictures and images and there was no television, save for the fireplace ... and that was the comfort and the entertainment ... to see things in the fire, and to talk to them, as I am talking to you, and maybe I am just that, another ghost, another voice, speaking out of the fire and telling you about the fire ... and the memories ... and the things I have seen in the fire ...

... as I am seeing my child hood now ... the log fire burning as if it were anthracite or coal ... and all those people from my past walking across the wooden logs and nodding and waving ... as alive now as they were then ... and filling my head, this grizzled old head, with their love, and their warmth, as I am filling your head with words and pictures and images, and the flames are rising higher and higher, and the blaze catches at my feet, my knees, my shirt is flaring now, and now my head and face are scarred and disfigured by the flames, those flames, and suddenly, it is all over, and I, like those days, I too am also gone ...

... but for the moment I am still here, and now I count only the happy hours, the autumn hours, spent around bonfire and fire ... and I am warmed by the hearth and the fireplace at home, with chestnuts roasting, and my grandmother’s  old black kettle on the hob, and the tea’ll be ready soon, and would you like a cup? ... one lump of sugar, or two? ... and you’re welcome to talk and stay and sit with me ... and we can sit here quietly and watch the faces in the flames ....

Winter in Wales

Getting up in the morning, in my childhood, in winter, in Wales, was a thing to be feared. I learned very early to stay under the blankets for as long as I could, to undress under the blankets, to emerge from the blankets only when fully dressed and only when I was ready to face the cold and the wet. Clothes left on the bedside chair would become damp overnight. So each morning, I would bring my day clothes into bed with me, my shirt and my underclothes and my socks, and I would wrap them in a little bundle, and clasp them like a teddy bear, until they got warm.

In the early morning, the only warm place in the house would be the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains, it was just after the Second World War and the blackout curtains were still in place in many homes, would be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. People would move in and out, letting in the cold air as they opened and closed the door, and the fire would just be taking hold. It would have been banked overnight with black sea-coal, and the ashes would have been gathered together, a newspaper placed over the fireplace to create a draught, some kindling added, probably with a little sugar to aid the blaze, and hopes would be high that the fire, around which the family clustered, would soon warm the room. The kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, would still be chilly. The damp night cold would have invaded and made everything wet and slick.

Breakfast was porridge, a hot cup of tea, the steam breathed in and the fingers warmed by the china cup. We thought of ourselves as a “lower middle class household” and used cups and saucers, never mugs. Mugs, usually of tin and covered with enamel, were for the workplace and the working class. Whatever class we were and whatever class we came from, a good fried breakfast was essential in winter: fried bread, fried eggs, fried bacon, fried sausage, fried black pudding, fried kidneys, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms – a genuine fry up. Occasionally we ate fried eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on, both family specialities. Whatever we ate, when the food was inside me, I felt much, much warmer and ready for the rest of the day.

The dark caused everything to change. When I was young, some of our streets still had gas lamps, and the lamp-lighter would appear around three or three thirty to light the lamps. School hours changed. We still had sports in school; but where, in the summer, we had lessons from 9 till 1, lunch, more classes from 2 to 3:30, and then sports, in winter the schedule changed and we had sports from 1:30 to 3:00 and classes from 3:30 to 5. This meant that, on a gloomy day, and there were some very gloomy days, games finished in a twilight that was to be feared with the soccer ball or the rugby ball looming suddenly out of the gloom to strike you when and where you least expected it. There were strict rules for sport on dark days. For example, games had to be abandoned if, for fog, or rain, or gloom, you couldn’t see, from the centre circle, the white posts sticking their hands into the air at either end of the pitch. Also, it was the task of the referee, usually one of the junior masters, to search all the areas of the playing field, at the end of play, just to check that nobody was lying in a gloomy corner, injured, or exhausted, or suffering from hypothermia.

Walking home, after school, in the dark, was always an adventure, and often, especially when I was younger, grandparents, aunties or elderly uncles would come to meet us and see us safely home. Otherwise there were safe walks which led us past safe houses where friends or relatives could be relied upon to look out of the window and check that we were on our way. Phone calls were expensive and bought by the minute at great cost: so, as you passed a safe house, an auntie would pick up the phone, dial my grandparents’ number, I was living with my grandparents at the time, and let the phone ring twice, for okay. Nothing ever happened: but in those post war days when Dai the Spy might still be lurking at every street corner, my family took no chances.

And then there was the wet: day after day of rain, driving in from Singleton Park and Swansea Bay, clouding Brynmill and Bayview Terrace, swathing Town Hill and Kilvey Hill in mist and cloud. The rain got everywhere. It swirled around ankles and knees wetting everything below the hem of the raincoat. Umbrellas kept the shoulders dry. But when the wind blew, and the gamps turned inside out, and people looked as though they were duelling with the wind and threatening to poke each other’s eyes out, then a good soaking was sometimes better and safer and, in the worst of the rain and the wind, the brollies came down.

As for the puddles: they were everywhere. You walked in them, whether you wanted to or not, and your leather shoes turned slowly into a pulp that leaked and let in the water. Socks were wet. Feet were cold and damp. Shoes sopped up the wet like blotting paper and were about as strong.  We would put our heads down to face the wind; we would stand at bus stops, waiting patiently for busses, with our backs to the wind; and the wind like a whiplash would drive the rain before it; and everywhere, there were woollen scarves (wet) and woollen gloves (wet) and even if you wore oilskins, which kept out the rain and the wind, you soon became wet from your own moisture conceived, sealed, and concealed within them.

Whenever you travelled, especially by bus, to another part of the town, it would be raining there too; but, as my grandmother used to tell us: “Smile now! Look happy! And remember: we had lovely weather all day. The sun was shining over there! Raining here all day, was it? What a pity! You should have come with us!” she would smile and then we’d all smile happily and laugh, and dance, and jump up and down, up and down, basking in the joy of the falsified sunshine.

But in spite of these performances, I remember the damp: even the walls were damp, and the banisters, and the polished wood ... and in spite of the cold outside, it was warm, at night, after supper, in the kitchen, with the fire piled high, and with all the doors closed, and the blackout curtains drawn, and curtains on doorframes curtailing the draughts, and woolly snakes made from old, rolled up blankets, lain across the foot of doors, impeding the passageway in and out, and making you trip and stumble if you forgot them. And in the kitchen we listened to the radio and we played cards and snakes and ladders and we did jigsaw puzzles and we watched my grandmother shuffle and reshuffle the cards as she patiently played her endless games of patience, at which she was allowed to cheat by re-arranging the cards, but we weren’t. Usually there was electricity, but sometimes there was not, and when the electricity failed there were oil lamps and candles, and we’d huddle together round the table, listening to the tock of the grandmother clock ticking on the kitchen wall, sharing the pooled light from oil lamp or candle, and the glass chimneys warm, be careful, too hot to touch, and cracking so easily if the door was opened suddenly and a cold draught of air blew in ...

... and if we needed a bath, well the bath water didn’t stay hot for long in the bath-tub at the top of the house, under the rafters, so an old tin bath was dragged into the kitchen and the water was placed on the hob and on the stove and that water was boiled and one by one, we were immersed, and scrubbed, to emerge pink, in the kitchen, in front of the fireplace, where we sat up wrapped in bath-robes and blankets, drinking hot cocoa so we wouldn’t catch cold ...

... and the worst punishment of all was to be sent to bed early, and to climb upstairs by candlelight, if you were lucky, or merely groping your way in the dark, if you weren’t. And you entered the cold and dark and damp of the bedroom and punishment was not to have supper, and not to have a warm hot water bottle or a warm baked brick; for to keep warm in bed, you needed that hot water bottle or that hot brick, baked in the oven or by the fireside, and wrapped in a towel. Those things banished damp from the bed and kept you warm for a while, or burned if the wrapping fell off. And the hot water bottles: they were made of tin and rubber, and once, I remember a cast iron duck, that was baked and wrapped, and swaddled in clothes ... but if you had been naughty, or nasty, or just plain bad, then there was nothing, and you lay in bed and you shivered and you cried yourself to sleep.

And whatever you did, you had to visit the bathroom before you went to sleep. Early on, I remember no indoors bathroom, just the outside toilet. And it was bitterly cold. To be sent to bed early was to be forced to get up in the night and use the chamber pot, which like the lunatic next door, slept under the bed, because he was a little potty, according to the neighbours, or else to go downstairs, through all the dark passages and rooms and corridors, out to the back yard and visit the washroom, no light, no warmth, in the cold of the night. And that was punishment, indeed.

But when I moved with my family from Swansea to Cardiff, all those things changed. The winters I remember in the capital came alive on match day with the International rugby and match day was when the English, the French, the Irish, or the Scottish invaded and the streets were full of cockerels and kilts, of bagpipes and cultured and uncultured accents from over the border and across the various channels and seas.

Imagine St. Mary’s Street, Queen’s Street or The Hayes: the taverns and pubs are overflowing; the traffic is held up; the Scottish are marching a kilted pipe band right through the city centre; the French have released a hundred white cockerels and they are running all over the streets and have stopped the buses and the cars, the trams and the taxis; and people are running everywhere, this way, that way, away from them (afraid), or towards them, anxious to pick them up and receive whatever reward the foreigner has brought across the channel on this day of days. And here now are the Irish, all dressed in green, with their top hats, and their mock harps and their shamrocks, and the English with their white shirts and their red, red roses, and will we win? Of course we will: we always won in those days, even when the opposition scored more points than we did, for there are many, many ways to win ...

... and in Cardiff Arms Park, standing room only, we would move away from the back wall in the enclosure at half time, and we’d pass around the bottles, boys, that once held bitter ale ... and that was winter in Wales, but, like youth, it didn’t last long, and now, by March the First, Dewi Sant, St. David’s Day, there was no winter, and the spring was nearly here, and the days were lengthening again, and one set of seasons was ending while the next was about to begin ...  and the Castle Grounds, where the wild beasts, lions and tigers, cast in concrete, climb over the boundary walls, are once again full of wild daffodils, in full bloom, thousands at a time, dancing and nodding beneath the trees, and in these other memories, there is no cold, no winter, no snow, not even on the mountains. The Bwlch is green, not white; and the Wenallt is green, not white; and there’s no coal now, coming from the Rhondda down the Merthyr-Taff  Vale Line, and you can drive over Caerphilly Mountain to visit Caerphilly Castle without fear of sliding downhill on the ice and snow and meeting a coal-truck ... and now, as I grow older, there is no childhood winter: and the world has turned full circle and there is just this eternal spring filled with sunshine and flowers and the highest of childhood kites flying in Blackweir Gardens on the warmest of winds.

... and in Wales, as I remember it, the year begins and ends with Dewi Sant ... and those daffodils dancing ... waiting for the spring ...

Question Time

Since the non-Welsh, indeed, the non-Swansea and Cardiff readers of these memories might have some difficulties with places, events, and names, I asked some friends if they would read the text and suggest some possible areas of difficulty to me. Brenda Sansom and David Brewer, both members of the Central New Brunswick Welsh Society, were kind enough to volunteer their services. I hope that the questions they suggested, together with the commentary that I now provide, will make the understanding of the text that much easier for those readers who, although sharing my Welsh heritage and culture, were brought up under very different circumstances.

I will begin with some very general questions, suggested by David Brewer, which go to the root of the links between memory and culture. The questions suggested include: (1) Have things drastically changed in the places you knew as a child? (2) How? (3) Would a child of this generation know any of the same experiences? And (4) What hasn't changed that much?  These questions are key to any theory of knowledge based on memory.

Quite simply, as I have stated in the various memories that follow, it’s not that things have changed so much now in comparison to what they were like then, it’s more that things were changing even as I was bearing witness to them. Brandy Cove, for example, is still there. But every major storm, every winter season, undermines the cliffs a little more, changes the shape of the beach ever so slightly, and we could see those changes every year, even when I was a child.

Another change: the Mumbles Railway was built in 1804 and was actually the first form of public transport by rail anywhere in the world. It was dismantled in 1960 and the main cars and a section of the track were apparently sold to a museum somewhere in Texas. In this fashion, even as I was living in Wales, enormous changes were taking place. But not all change is bad. For example, the centre of Swansea had been bombed heavily during the Second World War. I remember the town centre as partially ruined and I witnessed much of the early, post-war rebuilding of the town of Swansea. Swansea, incidentally, was a town when I was living there and only became a city in 1969. This rise in status is also a change.

During my last year in my equivalent of High School, I completed a project for A Level Geography on the coal industry in the Rhondda Valley. The project was filled with clippings from local newspapers with headlines like “King Coal topples from his Rhondda throne.” And indeed, in the early 1960’s, the coal culture and industry in Wales was rapidly vanishing and the mines in the Rhondda Valley were being shut down. This is celebrated in a famous song by Max Boyce which has, in its chorus, the sad, nostalgic line “... and the pit-head baths are a supermarket now ...” In addition, the farm lands were being sold and the land closest to the big cities was being turned into bigger and better housing estates, while the old badlands, which had been devastated by the copper smelting which had turned Swansea into “Copperopolis”, one of the largest copper smelting towns in the world, was steadily being reclaimed.

This leads me into the theoretical questions of what is memory and how does it affect us? I have very clear memories, especially of places I have visited, but whether those memories are true to life, I really don’t know. Are they true or are they invented? Certainly they are emotionally real, but are they factually verifiable? To what extent have I fictionalized and invented and rewritten my own existence? I am afraid that I no longer know.

But I do know that time is like a reversed arrow-head, starting at a point in the past, and broadening steadily as it moves into a seemingly infinite future. The tip of that reverse arrow-head, for me, is the moment of my departure from Wales, in 1966. As I move forward along the arrow head, I follow the upper line of the triangle that the arrow head forms.  I look down, and my memory places Wales on the line of the main shaft of the arrow. However, as I am changing, so Wales is changing, with the result that Wales is no longer to be found on the line of the main shaft of the arrow-head where I expect to find it, frozen in time. It has diverged, and follows the other edge of the triangle formed by the arrow-head. With each year that passes, it is moving further and further away from me as I move farther and farther away from it.

As to the unchanging: I think that some things have stayed more or less the same. Much of the Gower Peninsula, for example, forms a part of the National Trust Property and, like our National Parks here in Canada, cannot be built on. Even so, there is still pollution, and erosion, and the cliffs still fall down after the winter frosts, and very little is stable, even though geographic and geological time move so slowly.  In this fashion, Pwll Ddu was much the same when I last visited the beach, as was Brandy Cove, and Langland, and Caswell, though the latter was more built up and hence more polluted than previously. The lanes to the bungalow field, however, had already vanished some time ago, and the mud and stones were largely under tarmac before I left.  There was also running water and electricity in the bungalow and this made life so much easier. The wood stove was still there, but an electric cooker and a fridge had been added.

Brenda Sansom’s suggested some fascinating questions which were very specific and were also orientated directly towards the text. I have tried to answer them under the titles of the memories, for that is how they came to me, in four e-mails entitled Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.


“Many of the place names  Blackweir Gardens, the Castle Grounds, Taff ‘s Well,  Bishopston make me wonder:  are these small towns, or parks, and is the River Taff really black and do the fish and eels really have no eyes?”

These factual questions strike directly at the heart of what is memory and what is knowledge. The fishermen in Cardiff always used to say that the fish were born eye-less because they couldn’t see in the river water anyway on account of the coal dust. However, although I present this as fact in my memories, I am inclined to believe that it is an urban myth rather than actual truth. It certainly makes for a good story, for the River Taff used to be pretty dirty. In fact, when the coal mining industry was shut down, a Canadian company set up a scheme to dredge the Taff and to extract the coal that had been carried away from the valleys and deposited in the river. Apparently there was quite a bit of it. So, the urban myth is based on factual reality.

Blackweir Gardens, the Castle Grounds, Sophia Gardens are all part of an integrated network of playing fields and public parks in the centre of Cardiff. Sophia Gardens, though, has certainly been built up and now contains the Welsh National Excellence Centre for Sport. In addition, Glamorgan County Cricket Club have established their headquarters at a new ground, built there in the Gardens, for the purpose. Cardiff play rugby there too I believe.

Taff’s Well (or Ffynnon Taf) is a small town just to the north of Cardiff, on the River Taff.  It is overlooked by Castelll Coch, the Fairy Castle, that has appeared in several films (The Black Knight, The Prisoner of Zenda, and The Worst Witch, for example). Wikipedia tells me that, and I quote:  “The name "Taff’s Well" is derived from the fact that the village is situated alongside the River Taff, and that it is the site of a natural hot spring (of 18.9 degrees C, 66 degrees F) that has been used since Roman Times.”

Bishopston, on the other hand, where my father and grandfather built our bungalow ( the local Swansea name for a sea-side cottage) is just outside Swansea, on the Gower Peninsula. It is on the headland above Brandy Cove and has cliff top walks that lead to Caswell Bay (to the east) and Pwll Ddu (to the west). Bishopston Common, at the top of the Mayals, just outside Swansea, was for a long time an unenclosed and undeveloped area, no fences, no hedges, on which local farmers could graze their cows, sheep, and horses. We had to cross Bishopston Common in order to get to the lanes that led down the bungalow. Since the animals roamed free, the drivers, and there were not so many of them back then, and they did drive more slowly than they do now, were trained to keep a watchful eye on the animals grazing at the edge of the road.

As for Wellington boots, well, I know exactly what a Wellington Boot (Welly, Welligog) is, but how do I explain it? Rather than attempt my own definitions of these footwear phenomena, I turned again to Wikipedia. For Wellington Boots I discovered this entry: “The Wellington Boot, also known as rubber-boots, wellies, topboots, gumboots, barnboots, muckboots, or rainboots are a type of boot based upon leather Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. This novel “Wellington” boot then became a fashionable style emulated by the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.” So, a Wellington Boot is a rubberized, water-proof boot as worn by Wellington!”

An interest was also expressed in the origin and meaning of woad. For me, woad is the blue dye that was used by the Ancient Britons to paint tattoos on the body. When I checked, again in Wikipedia, I found a long article defining different types of blue and indigo dyes and many manners of dyeing. I also found this note: “Julius Caesar tells us (in De Bello Gallico) that the Britanni used to colour their bodies blue with vitrum, a word that roughly translates to “glass”. While many have assumed vitrum or vitro refers to woad, and this misconception was probably preferred for political reasons, it is probable that Caesar was describing some form of copper-or-iron-based pigment. The northern inhabitants of Britain came to be known as Picts (Picti) which means “painted ones” in Latin, and may have been due to these accounts of them painting or tattooing their bodies.”


As for laver bread, it has been called “the caviar of Wales” by no less a person than Richard Burton, the actor. Laver bread is made from a particular type of sea-weed (porphyra laciniata / Porphyra umbilicalis) which is boiled, strained through muslin, and then fried according to specific family recipes. The usual way to eat it was for breakfast, with cockles and bacon. We enjoyed it for lunch usually as a side dish to bacon, sausage and egg. However, edible laver bread must not be confused with the non-edible form of laver bread to which it is visually similar and which is produced by the wrong end of cows. It was obviously highly amusing for us Welsh boys to see our English cousins rolling down the sloping fields and covering themselves with the inedible laver bread of moo-pooh.

I Googled the Mumbles Railway, for the fun of it, and discovered a great many articles. The Mumbles Railway was built, initially as a railway, in 1804, and it was the first transport system in the world to carry passengers by rail. I really enjoyed "checking" my old memories. I had forgotten, for example, when the Mumbles Railway actually disappeared (1960). I spent the summers of 1960, 1961, and 1962 in Spain and so missed out on the inglorious sale and ending of the train -- it was really a double-jointed double-decker tramcar and was quite unique. I have very fond memories of travelling by that mode of transportation. It followed the sweep of Swansea Bay from Swansea Docks to the Mumbles Pier, where there was a light house and a life boat. Its length was just under seven miles. Reading the articles brought back so many memories and I discovered that I had forgotten several of the place names at which the tram cars used to stop. In summer, there were open top trams  from which one could easily see the banana boats, which used to dock regularly in  Swansea Docks; Elder and Fyffe, with their yellow funnels with the blue stripe on them, were one of the big banana marketing and shipping companies.

As for the poems, the aurox is a form of early, post ice age cattle; a sort of hairy ox.

Anthracite is the hardest form of coal and burns most fiercely.  After it, in hardness, comes the semi-precious stone, jet; hence jet-black. Coal is usually graded through lignite (brown coal), to house coal, to steam coal, to anthracite in order of hardness and the heat it produces. The South Wales Coal Field was one of the most important in Britain throughout the First World War (1914-1918) and up to and just after the Depression (1927-1928). However, it dropped in importance as other forms of energy gradually replaced steam and by the 1960’s most of the collieries in the Rhondda Valley (there were approximately 128 of them in 1928) were closing or had already closed. Inside the mines themselves, the pit-prop is the wooden post that supports the mine-shafts and holds up the roofs of the coal seams. It carries the weight of the earth above. When it creaks, the earth is moving, and anyone caught underground is in potential trouble. Caged canaries were used in the mines to give warning of gas leaks: if your canary flopped off the perch and struggled for breath or died, you knew you were in imminent danger.


The main question that arose from the Autumn memories concerned the Gunpowder Plot. This can also be Googled and there are some very informative articles about the nature of religion and worship in England at the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign and the beginning of the reign of James I. The intention of the Gunpowder Plot was to blow up the Houses of Parliament and thus to destroy the protestant Government of England. When king and Government had gone, a catholic was to be placed upon the throne to replace the protestant James I. In addition, the English Church was to have returned to the Roman form of worship.  The plot was discovered on November 4th and reported to the King on November 5, 1605. By Act of Parliament (January, 1606), a Thanksgiving Act was passed which decreed that the population of England would celebrate the narrow escape of the parliamentarians on the 5th of November with bonfires and fireworks. The Fifth of November is also known as Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night, and Guy Fawkes Night (after one of the conspirators).

Many forms of pop (the drink, not the music) were current during my childhood and Dandelion and Burdock was one of them. It was (we boys thought) a delicious dark brown purple pop that made you look very grown up when drinking it and even thirstier and thus ready to drink more of it. We sometimes drank it, very politely, from cups or glasses, but more often than not we drank it straight from the bottle! As for the salamanders on the coals, these were not real, but imaginary. However, go to King’s Landing and you will find a Salamander Stove there, much like the one my grandparents used in the bungalow. As for the hob, it has several meanings: in early days it was a shelf or holding space within the fireplace where kettles and other cooking vessels were stored to keep their contents hot. Later it came to mean the hotplate on the stove, but this is a much more modern usage and a clear semantic change. For me, the hob was always inside the old fire place which, in the old Welsh houses and kitchens, was enormous.


Many questions arose from the winter memories. Sea-coal was so-called because, before it was mined, the seams ran along the shore and coal could be collected from the beaches: hence sea-coal. Sugar was added to the fire as it seems to help the fire to burn, especially when the weather is cold or damp. Black pudding, or blood pudding, is a typical, traditional Welsh dish. It is usually found in association with pigs and pig-farming, both of which were important in Wales. St. Martin’s Day was the usual day for the winter slaughter of the pigs and they are important because, however gruesome this may seem to us now, about 95% of the pig is useful, a higher proportion than most animals. This usage includes the blood which can be mixed with herbs and spices and turned into puddings. Eggy bread is a common name for French Toast, and Egg-with-its-hat-on is probably a family dish: you cut a square from the middle of a slice of bread, fry the bread and the square together in the frying pan, drop an egg into the hole left in the bread when you remove the square, and then, when you turn the bread and egg over to fry it on the other side, you place the square back over the hole, before turning, so as to put the hat back on the egg!

Dai the Spy is a rhyming joke following on Jones the Milk and Upper and Lower Jones. With all those Dais and Joneses, not to mention Dai Joneses, it is necessary to distinguish between them by adding their employment or their dwelling place to their surname.

As for the rugby supporters, the emblem of the French Rugby Team is Le Coq Sportif, usually a white cockerel or rooster. The English symbol is the red rose, though, if the other side, not the Welsh one (Tudor / Tewdr), had won the wars of the roses, it might have been a white rose that the English rugby players wear. The French National rugby jersey displays a white cockerel with the letters FFR beneath it. The English jersey is white and bears a red rose. As for the Bwlch (a mountain pass or a cleft between the hills in Welsh), it is one of the many passes that run between the mountains (or large hills) that look over the Welsh Valleys. The Bwlch itself, the Bwlch to which I refer, is on the main road between the Rhondda Valley and Swansea, when you take the old mountain road in via Neath. The Wenallt (Cardiff) and Caerphilly Mountain all turn white in the winter with the snow and then green again in the spring.

Hopefully, these comments will help non-Welsh readers of the memories to a better understanding of them. Permit me to express, once again, my thanks to David Brewer and Brenda Sansom for their assistance in writing this section.

This book was printed
in a limited private edition:

250 copies


© 2010

Roger Moore

La Torre de Juan Abad

Island View

New Brunswick

E3E 1A2