Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Tâf Fawr to Nant Morlais
The story of my growing up in Merthyr: It all started for me in the infirmary, Saint Tydfils Hospital, Merthyr Tydfil/Tudful Cymru/Wales, on August 3, 1951, from where after roughly 10 days I was moved to 30 Trevethick Street, the house of a Mrs Lydia Pugh, where Sylvia Pugh aged 8 also resided, as did at this time Mr Fred Walters, Mrs Phyllis May Walters and Maldwyn Kenneth Walters aged 4; whilst there I slept in one of the drawers of a chest of the same, there being not a lot of room. During the just under two years that I lived there I began to learn that Phyllis & Fred were mammy & daddy, that Maldwyn was my brother Havard, a name I'd picked up on hearing and misinterpreting the name of his infant school headmistress, Sylvia was my cousin, and Lydia my maternal grandmother who moved down to Merthyr from Hen Sir Faesyfed/ Radnorshire in Powys when she was 17, leaving the family farm 'Marchell' in the village of Llanstephan near Llyswen, she went to the family church at Boughrood, and to market at Welsh Hay (Y Gelli Gandryll), although she couldn't speak a word of Welsh and considered herself English, the family name being Handley; she pronounced the name of her village 'Lanstuphan'; it was only later in life I realized the connexion, that Marchell was the mother of Brychan, who was the father of Tydfil. Uncle Elfyn, Aunty Cassie and cousins Marion & Denise lived four doors down at No 26, and there was another Marion one door up at No 32 where her mother Blodwen was my brother's godmother.
My parents were married after peace was declared in 1945, during the war my mother worked in amunitions factory in Bridgend whilst my father was a corporal instructor in the R.E.M.E., Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers at a technical college in Cairo, pride of place at home was given to a dinner gong with a map of Africa encircled by the names of his fellow staff members & officers, my brother was born two years later in 1947.
Apparently because of the lack of space daddy went to see a certain councillorTal Lloyd, who was to gain renown 17 years later for his Election loss to S.O. Davies, the ousted sitting MP; from thence there was a move to the brand new council estate being built on the Swansea Rd, all the streets were given names in Welsh relating to the surrounding hills such as Bryn Padell & Bryn Gwyddel, we moved into No.9 Heol Bryn Man; the official name was the Gellideg Est. but eveyone referred to it as Swansea Road, couldn't say a word against Tal Lloyd afer that to my father, however when Plaid Cymru got into power they brought about a points system because this system or lack of it was seen to be open to corruption, but that's how it was in the valleys we were one big Labour family and if you were an outsider with no connections, tough luck. We didn't see any nepotism because we were all the same big Merthyr family who'd come together through the industrial revolution, the riots and the depression, one for all & all for one. Of course some of them profited from it and there were good positions to be had especially chairman of planning when the money started coming in after the war for the council housing estates, industrial estates, new schools and a town centre.
We and the Richards family were the first in the street, I used to sit at the window sucking on the lead paint of the window sill ledge watching the bulldozers and the houses over the road being built, including that of Frank & Joyce Harrington and their son Francis. My first friends in life were: Frances & Michael Vaughan, Shwnny (Sioni), Dai, Pat & Christine were their elder siblings and Philip came along later; Gareth Richards, Stewart was his elder brother; John Woods who lived on Heol Tai Mawr; Francis Harrington when the family moved in, and my cousin Howard Davies followed by his younger brother Malcolm who lived on Georgetown Square between Joseph Parry's cottage and the skinyard or tanyard next to Jackson's Bridge over the Tâf river; it stank. I used to go to sleep in a cot with a rag doll, which I used to undress to see what was underneath, and a golliwog, sharing the bedroom with my brother Havard, or Maldwyn. Francis Harrington used to have a red tricycle with a boot, mine didn't, and a train set upstairs in the box room, he had little grey flannel trousers, I wanted the same and got, and because he had birthday parties so did I, mine stopped when we moved away. Next door down was a boy a year older than myself who spoke with strange intonations, different from the rest of us, it turned out he was English; his father came to Merthyr to work in the ICI chemical factory, so the council put up the family temporarily on the estate until a house was ready at Billingham Crescent the workers accomodation on Galon Uchaf Road, named after the town hosting the company headquarters in the north east of England. My favourite toy was a little pedal horse which for some reason my parents took away from me, I still don't know why, perhaps because a road passed in front of the house; one day a child came down the road on the back of a similar one with his father which I took to be mine, I ran after him and tried to grab it back. In the house we had a little dark cubby hole where my brother and I used to turn a film to watch Micky Mouse and friends cavorting about on the wall. We all had great fun playing in the sand of the construction site which was to be the shops and I remember one day falling out with Frances Vaughan with the result that she scrammed my face. Frances died very young, being found unconscious in her bedroom. As there weren't any shops, the Harp Inn at the top of the road served to buy crisps and chocolate while the Walls van came around the streets selling ice-cream in the summer. Often when coming back up from town my father would point out the steam train crossing the bridge between Heolgerrig and Gellideg on its way to the Cefn Coed and Pontsarn viaducts passing through the gorge below Morlais Castle before joining the Dowlais and Pant lines on its way to Brecon.
Just below the houses the Tâf Fawr ran under Cefn Viaduct, this was our swimming pool until one year there was a polio scare. My first swimming costume was a girl's cut down to fit me, my second that lasted into my teenage years wasn't a proper one and embarrassed me, no matter how often or hard I pleaded I was stuck with it, I was always being 'big headed' or 'never satisfied', when it always seemed to me that they got it right for my brother. From the street I could see a castle in the distant woodland that I would admire from afar, which was the house of one of our local ironmasters when Merthyr was the largest town in Cymru/Wales; Nelson's cannons were made here with two being kept back for display where my mother would go for walks with me in the pram, and later I would play on; there was a museum showing off Merthyr's industrial greatness in its prime with examples of twisted cold steel; an art gallery with landscape miniatures by Merthyr's own Penry Williams, plus; a huge ball of silicosis taken from a pit pony, the instruments from the Cyfarthfa brass band, stuffed animals, a Welsh kitchen and examples of Egyptology, etc. and behind these a grammar school to which I always dreamt of going and did. When I outgrew the pram and we left the house to go shopping or to visit my grandmother, for I only had one, and no grandfather, I wasn't allowed to go without my harness or reins, I've never seen another child wearing them. My brother used to go on my father's shoulders but I didn't fancy the height and relative instability with only his head to hold onto, I preferred a solid piggy-back. We went to church in a tent at the bottom of the estate. My favourite shop intown was Manchester house on the corner opposite the Castle cinema and the library, for two reasons, it had revolving doors and an electric train set on permanent display; the library didn't have an electric train but it did have revolving doors making it fun borrowing books.
On my visits to my gran I made friends with: Christopher Jones; Martin Weaver; George, Susan & Leslie Quirk; Joyce, Eileen & Ronald were their older siblings and Colin, Gwladys & Hadrian yet to be born; Billie Doe was older, Richard (Dickie), Howard & Ann, younger; David Purcell/Roberts & Carole; Malcolm Evans & Alan Watkins; Raymond and David Adler yet to be born; Ann Davies, Tanya yet to be born; Valerie Brace; Frank Price (although he lived at the bottom of Plantation St) and his cousin Joanna, their cousin Howard Davies from Twyn; Roger Powell moved in from the Quar, his sister Ruth yet to be born became very friendly with Raymond & David, it was topped off by Teare (Terry ) Docton from the Avenue and Malcolm (Mental) from Danyparc. I remember at an early age going up to the top of Trevethick Street with my mother on the way to Penydarren and wondering where the Earth was going to end.
My cousin Howard went to Georgetown Infants aged four, as did everyone else my age, I wanted to go as well but by the time I went I was a year behind everybody else, I wanted to go on the bus with all the other children but my mother insisted on coming along, I don't remember anything except standing in assembly a row and year behind Howard, and going down the steps to a gate and looking out, I met my cousin Susan Woods whose mother's father was my father's brother, then I was five, moving to 20 North Street Penydarren, to this day I have always considered Heol Bryn Man my home; we moved into a mouse ridden old house lacking in all the modern facilities we had in Gellideg, no hot water, the toilet was outside with the bath hanging on a hook on the toilet door, instead of a straight wide staircase there was a narrow winding one with a cubby hole for a shilling meter underneath (my father would walk me up them with my feet on his facing him). Later without planning permission my father built on a back kitchen, brought the toilet inside added a bathroom, water heated by a gas water heater we called a geyser, and covered the lot with asbestos. It was traumatic for a five year old who'd already suffered the loss of his favourite toy, and my pedal car was immobilized so I couldn't go on the road, it's no wonder that I started wetting myself, plus the fact that I left my neighbours & friends whom I'd felt were a part of me spiritually and to top it all we put our ginger tom out on the first night and he never came back, I was upset. I left my roots behind me, I became an outsider at 5 years of age, the feeling never left me, only to be repeated and consolidated as time went on, except for the inescapable fact that I was 100% Merthyr; it was a great feeling as a child to be in Cardiff and see our municipal double deckers coming past or coming back from Porthcawl, Neath or Swansea, late over the crest of Aberdare Mountain and seeing the lights of Merthyr in the distance signalling our arrival home. My limits for many years were Cardiff, Swansea & Brecon.
My mother gave me the choice of schools, Penydarren, which was down the road, or Queens Rd. where all my Trevethick Street friends went but further away, behind my grannie's street, over the back of an ironwork's tip between Penyard and Twynyrodyn, near to where Jack Jones the novelist was born, author of 'Off To Philadelphia in the Morning', the story of Joseph Parry who wrote the music for 'Myfanwy' and was born in Georgetown; I chose Queens Rd. and my mother made arrangements with Sandra Owens from across the road to take me and bring me back as it was on the way to her school Queens Rd. seniors the secondary modern. I joined my friends in the second year and met Paul Jenkins; Mark Powell; Elisabeth Protheroe; Vincent Price; Steven Lewis; Lilian Richards & Carole Anne Harris. I wonder if Carole remembers this? One day I was one of the last to leave the school, not before going into the cloak room to collect my coat, it wasn't there so I picked up a similar one to wear home, although it was patently a girls coat with the buttons arranged differently, I could see by a sewn in label that it belonged to Carole, so we took it to her house in Darren view and swapped hers for mine, the following day Carole & Lilian Richards were laughing at me because in their mind I was the one got them mixed up, but it was you Carole who had earlier left with mine. What I remember about the school is that there were two Mrs Davies's; that I wet myself and had to go to the staff room to dry out; I often arrived home with legs chapped raw after wetting myself; there was a sand pit we never played in; catkins in the grounds; and that it had a flat roof; we had Jammie dodgers with milk in the mornings; that in jumping over a bush I badly cut my knee, after it started to heal I picked the sore which all my schoolmates took for stitches and counted them in the toilets; Paul Jenkins broke his arm; I slapped someone on the back in assembly making a great noise and being moved to the girls line as punishment; going with Mark Powell, Siencyn Powell's son, (Merthyr's wonder winger with the cannonball shot) after school to the Brunswick pub which his parents kept, down the steps past the synagogue into town instead of going home with Sandra, thereby causing my parents unnecessary worry, Mark showed me a photo of his brother Andy in Abermorlais school with my brother, I drank with him15 years later in the Lamb and the Anchor, but never ever met up with Mark again after leaving infant school, although I'd see him around town occasionally and we had friends in common, I don't remember how it worked itself out, my parents not having a telephone; laughing at one of my classmates because he didn't believe in God; Peter (Snobby) Horrel's nose was always running, walking down to Rudman's corner shop with a girl who was wearing a tartan skirt attached with a big pin, I was later told that we were in school together in Cyfarthfa but never found out who she was; and learning the days of the week in Welsh as well as phrases such as 'Bara 'Menyn' and 'Bara Chaws' (Bread & Butter and Bread & Cheese). Just beyond the school there was a circle of upright stones near Gorsedd Terrace where Steven Lewis lived, I didn't have any idea what it represented until at least 10 years later when I learnt about the National Eisteddfod visiting the town in 1901. Further down the road was Thomastown Park, the old park on the right, the new park behind the high gates opposite; Miss Davies took the class to the new park for a stroll, I suppose it was an early study group, she saw a squirrel in the trees, which in those days were red, she told us to look up into the trees to search for it, but I failed to see a squirrel anywhere until I became familiar with the woods around Cyfarthfa School during the mid 60s, by then they were of the invading all conquering grey species; being Welsh invasions are something I know a bit about, only this time they weren't coming from the east over Offa's Dyke and the Afon Hafren/River Severn but from across the Atlantic Ocean. Carole was the best reader in the class, but I like to think that I caught up with her before going on to Penydarren Juniors. I don't remember being a strong reader previously, although I had an interest in books due to my father reading childrens classics to my brother that I caught on to, I mainly remember the Hans Christian Andersen stories, then one day my parents questioned me on the pronunciation of a word that seemed to trigger something in my brain, from then on I became a prolific reader and an under age member of the Carnegie Central Municipal library in town, my happiest time as a child was looking through the treasure trove of books in the childrens' library, or Ali Baba's cave as it was to me, as a 6 year old I had my first experience of horror, it was not a pleasant one; Noddy went out for a pleasant drive untill he reached a forest where golliwogs were hiding behind the trees, on his approach they jumped out, stripped him and stole the car, he ran back to his friend Big Ear's house where he received blankets & comfort; I also discovered King Arthur & his Knights, the Anglo/French versions of de Troyes/Mallory. I spent so much time there with good memories that on returning as an adult I couldn't get over how small it was. Another place I seemed to habitually go was the Hollies Clinic for poultices and somesuch, often I used to run around and got to know the faces and the smells, but for the life of me I can't remember why, because as a child I was never ill, except for a bout of mumps and I had warts for a short time, just remembered something; that's where the dentist was, my mother took me there for a filling, but typical of my mother, when I came out so had my tooth; same thing, I remember often going to young Dr. Thomas's nearby but not why, both of them were just off the town centre.
The first book I remember having as my own was 'Events of the Royal Year 1953' although it was most probably my brother's, one was also given to cousin Sylvia, so I also got to read at gran's, it was a picture book of everything of note that happened that year, my introduction to the wider world including: Hollywood films; Wimbledon; Monte Carlo Rally; the Stanley Matthews Cup Final, etc. etc., not forgetting the obvious, Elizabeth's coronation. My father had two treasures that I used to look at from a very early age, whether he bought them before or after the war I am not sure but they were self-teaching books on Maths & English Literature, way above my head but familiarized me with classic names and passages such as Shakespeare's plays, Milton's Paradise Lost, John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
On moving house to Penydarren my new close friends were: my next door neighbour Geoffrey Palmer; Vivian Jones, Geoff's cousin who later became Dunlop lived 3 doors up, Robert Lloyd down the bottom of the street at No. 8. Gerald Williams No. 7; later Gareth Davies and David Saunders younger neighbours of Robert joined us. Robert's father, a railway worker, was fortunate to have a patch at the Royal Crescent allotments where he would grow vegetables and strawberries, the waiting list was years long. Raymond (Cisco) Lewis & his cousin Marion lived up the street, opposite on the end there were the Turners, Betty & her bother then Adrian Webber; Tommy, Raymond & Terry Cunningham were cousins to the Turners; Susan Quinlan; and Brian & Shirley Owens.
Penydarren High St. had two commercial areas, the one at the bottom where Mario Basini's family had their café, around which there were many shops, a newsagent's, a cinema, a blacksmiths forge and two pubs 'The Talbot' & 'The Crystal Palace', these were linked to the top by two more pubs 'The Masons Arms' & 'The New Inn', a chapel 'The Radcliffe Hall' and a lucania, billiard & snooker hall that Eddie Thomas transformed into a world champions' boxing gym, dedicated athletes coming from as far as Australia in the dream of being made into champions under his tutelage; at the top there were also many shops, including two grocers side by side, a newsagent's, two pubs 'The Rose & Crown' & 'The Norton Tavern', everything gone now except for the Norton. There were also shops, mainly grocers, but there was a butchers as well, running spasmodically up the long thoroughfare of Elim & Brynhyfryd streets. My mother chose 'Reynolds' on the junction of Brynhyfryd St. and the road leading down from our back gate. In those days there was a tradition of 'slates' or 'on tick' because the factories paid a weekly wage in a packet on a friday, so every shopkeeper got his money on a friday evening. Mr Reynolds expanded into the back with a greengrocers but when it didn't work out he reverted to the status quo
Dowlais on the other hand, up the hill, across the other side of 'The Bont' was a different kettle of fish, a town in its own right, when my mother took me with her to the shops I was exposed to a wholly different place, it ha a thriving, if not bustling, shopping centre with commercial streets leading off in every direction with pubs & chapels vying for prominence, higher up there were railway tracks, industrial & passenger, and stations everywhere reflecting its former importance; in later years most of it was knocked down by a short sighted Merthyr council who move its inhabitants to a different area where they built one of the largest housing estates in Europe, due to a lack of vision famous world wide for all the wrong reasons, a town, businesses & homes, a commercial hub historic in value had been ripped off the planet to be replaced by impersonal blocks of flats with no gardens. Old people who'd lived in their little houses all their lives in socially strong communities, polishing and blacking their brass and iron chimney surrounds were condemned to die without trial, losing the neighbourly warmth they'd been brought up on, and in many cases deprived of their language of chapel, condemned to end their lives alone on the Gurnos Estate, because their houses were old, they were little palaces, not to be confused with the real slums that had existed otherwise in Dowlais & Georgetown. Reminds me of cousin Sylvia destroying gran's wood & leather, replacing it with 60s plastic
I'm very much a decentralist so I've always separated the concept of the town of Dowlais from that of Merthyr, Mario Basini refers to them as twin towns, even though they both form part of the County Borough of Merthyr Tydfil that came into being in 1908. The Guests weren't too keen on Merthyr becoming a borough, concerned that it would be detrimental to the good of Dowlais, and perhaps they were right; Merthyr council is very centralist, one only has to ask anyone living down the valley to confirm it, but the beginnings of the Dowlais Ironworks were written into the "Articles of Co-Partnership in Myrthir Furnace" in 1759 "for joint dealing in the art, misterry, occupation and business of iron manufacturers and smelting of iron ore or iron mine or stone, into pig iron" in Myrthir Tydvil, and to bring in a joint stock of £4,000.
My brother who I'd begun calling by his proper name of Maldwyn by this time, as I've stated, was a pupil in Abermorlais Juniors, or Primary School, and that is where most of my friends went after Queens Rd, except for the ones who went to Twynyrodyn, and Paul Jenkins, Valerie Brace, if she was in Queens Rd., she may have gone to Penydarren Infants.; Lilian Richards; Carole Anne Harris & myself who went to Penydarren. Abermorlais was known to have a higher success rate than Penydarren at 11 plus, with even the Bs passing, in Penydarren not all the As passed, nobody in the Bs. For some reason we all went into the Bs, with Paul early on being transferred to the A stream. The first year in 1b I learnt to write properly, the multiplication tables to 12 x 12, the months of the year in Welsh and to cross the road by looking right then left then right again; we had our own little library which contained Beatrix Potter's Brer Rabbit stories, and were regularly given reading tests which were their guide to our abilities more so than mental arithmetic. I was put on the top table and before the end of the year Carole and myself were transferred to the As ready to start 2A with our new friends.
In our first year we'd had various teachers, I mainly remember a Mrs Raspbridge who taught me a lot, otherwise it was noticeable that outside the A stream there wasn't a high standard of teaching because the children weren't expected to go far in life and the teachers and the headmaster were mainly Labour Party hacks. We were very fortunate that in years two & three we had two of the best in Anita James & Kenneth Adams Morgan, neither of whom were members of the Labour Party, one was a member of Plaid Cymru, the other became president of Merthyr Conservative club; they must have been good because they were both given headships relatively young, when normally 'members' were the first to be moved on. One day Miss James in standard 2 was asking the class about our christmas presents and as I didn't get any I was hoping that I wouldn't be asked; my mother used to say that because I got them all year round I didn't need them at Christmas. I got my toy soldiers from corn flakes packets & photos from PG Tips, sweet cigarette & chewing gum packets, not toys, but they filled the role, my father worked in a toy factory, so I remember a toy fort, a crane, a dumper truck, a car transporter lorry and a lorry big enough to ride on, I missed out on a toy racing car when the other children were racing them on the street and in the school yard, and roller skates when they were in fashion, but joined in when marbles or harlies were very popular, same with dickstones, and I don't want to be too unfair because as I got older my brother & I shared a scalextric track, until he walked on part of it, a horse racing game where the horses advanced through vibration when turning a handle, an electric train set; I know this is nit-picking, I would have liked a steam train but got a modern american locomotive instead; also 'Totopoly' that nobody played after I'd asked for 'Monopoly' so my friends could join in, and I had a small to medium snooker table. My parents didn't discuss their family matters so they never knew what was popular with other children at any given time, they basically kept themselves to themselves, we never had visitors to the house, although my father had his saturday afternoon for placing his bets & a drink, and there was always an evening set aside for the two of them to go out; firstly I remember The Harp on the Swansea Road, then it was The Nelson on Pontmorlais where my father was in the darts team and as a self taught piano player he would guide the ambiance after the match on the honky-tonk, my mother would help prepare sandwiches for the away side, then it was Merthyr Labour Club and finally the Penydarrren Club.
For a while I made a point of getting up early to go to school and help one of the cleaners go around the classes polishing the desks, apparently it wasn't the first time for a pupil to do this but it was usually a girl; I didn't get up early enough for a popular childrens' saturday morning show because my mother preferred to keep me in bed out of the way and out of mischief as she saw it.
In the middle of all this I was 8 years of age and waking up to spectator sports, principally: the Olympic Games in Rome; football & tennis; I watched Wilma Rudolph win 3 gold medals; Abebe Bikila win the marathon; Herb Elliot the 1500 metres with Michel Jazy 2nd; Peter Radford a bronze in the 100 metres; Peter Snell the 800 metres; Don Thomson the 50km walk; 4 x 100 metres relay bronze; Brian Phelps, 10m platform dive bronze; Dorothy Hyman, 200m bronze; Tamara Press, shot put gold & discuss silver; Dawn Fraser, 100m freestyle & relays; Anita Lonsbrough, 200m breaststroke; David Broome, show jumping bronze; Gordon Pirie lose the 10,000m; and Mary Bignal lose the long jump. Billy Wright was the big name in football but I had to wait a year to see the 1961 F.A. Cup final, Spurs beating Leicester 2 - 0; the Wimbledon singles finals were contested between Neale Fraser & Rod Laver, and Maria Bueno v Sandra Reynolds; I remember more distinctly the Rod Laver victory the following year against Chuck McKinley and Christine Truman losing rather unluckily to Angela Mortimer. So we could say that I woke up to sports in 1960, but that I got to see the bigger picture from 1961 on, same with cricket, Peter May & Colin Cowdrey were the big names to my ears but it was with Ted Dexter as captain that I began following the game, preferring Richie Benaud his Australian rival. A lot of nonsense is spoken about rugby in Wales, I never got to see a rugby ball until I was nearly in my teens, nor even heard it mentioned.
Mr. Morgan in standard 3 set us a composition, it didn't become 'essay' until grammar school, on our home life and how we ate; at home we had a varied menu that changed every day from a stocked up cupboard and fridge. The Heinz company & 'Birds Eye' supplied us with much of our food although we didn't go to the whole 57 varieties, every day was different, we had : ham & chips; egg & chips; sausage & chips; beans & chips; spaghetti & chips (inconceivable in my new abode across the water); fish fingers & chips; as I got older I was allowed the luxury of sausage, egg, beans & chips; pie & chips & fish & chips we could get at the local fish shop, there was a choice of 'red sauce' or 'brown sauce'; sundays we had boiled potatoes, meat, veg & gravy; later on we had steak with onion gravy on tuesday nights. I asked a neighbour what breed his dog was, to which he replied "it's a Heinz dog", I said "what's that?, he replied "57 varieties", ouch.
There was Lynwen Rhydderch , our resident 'Welsh' teacher who taught us songs in the Welsh Language and got us to sign up to membership of 'Urdd Gobaith Cymru', the Welsh League of Youth, not surprising perhaps having a name like that she should be so taken with the culture; one day she invited me on a coach trip to the Urdd camp in Llangrannog on the Cardiganshire coast, when I asked my mother permission she refused, leading to a ticking off on the monday because waiting for me made them late starting off; however, she wasn't the person giving us our regular Welsh lessons, it was an elderly lady, a Miss Parry? from Penydarren and I hated every second of it, I have always reacted more to the teacher than the subject. I remember Kerry Lloyd standing in front of the class tightening his neck muscles when she asked him to repeat the Welsh he'd learnt.
Our teacher in year four was a pipe smoking Mr Davies M.A., can't say I remember much about him except that he told us he was an M.A., an easy going sort of person, perhaps I preferred them stricter with direction, always needed a bit of direction, my mother used to leave me in bed in the mornings, I was always going to school the following day with the excuse that I'd slept late, bringing giggles from my classmates, it shouldn't have taken 24 hours to get there as it was only 2 streets down; she didn't see the need for education, our 'caste' left school at fifteen, it was for others to get on and be looked up to, it wasn't our place, too much reading gave one ideas, which is what I had, and it was bad for the brain. My memories include three for Linda Treharne; a little disagreement with Gillian Connor, her singing voice which beat Carole every time in the annual school eisteddfod, and being regularly told off by the teacher for forever asking to go to the toilet after coming in to class from playtime; Carole had the voice of an angel, but perhaps didn't have the strength & resonance of Linda's to carry across the school hall. There was a trip to Langland Bay, it rained, and to Brangwyn Hall in Swansea to see Frank Brangwyn's 'British Empire Panels' huge paintings which were originally meant for the House of Lords but were declined. A chest of books came around from the library for us to borrow, I loved reading and when I found 'Jane Eyre' in the cupboard I was disappointed to have it taken from me on account of my being too young. Other memories include: First aid in English; the Golden Treasury, Christina Rossetti and Walter de la Mare; being read Black Beauty, Rikki Tikki Tavi and the Water Babies; in a Welsh class 'Y Wiwer' gan I.D. Hooson.
Throughout year 4 I was first reserve for the soccer team which usually meant running the line, until one day I was selected to play on the wing against one of the Dowlais teams, I didn't have a clue, I was used to kick abouts not team play, not knowing what a winger was supposed to do I stayed out near the line, I don't remember even touching the ball and was never picked again.
Normally we wouldn't leave our desks during lessons but one time when it was quiet after exams I decided to take responsibility for teacher's drawing pins, I went around the school with a penknife pulling out every drawing pin I could see and bringing them back to her desk, pointless really but it made me feel good & childishly responsible.
If there was any trouble out in the school yard it was put down by Frank Price, usually it was started by a boy by the name of Graham Price, not the future rugby international from Pontypool but a bit of a trouble maker who came in to his own later on in Vaynor & Penderyn; there wasn't much sense in messing with Frank; another good hard boy was Derek James, Degaz or Degsy. At the end of year 4 and the 11 plus results we all got split up with Derek leading his team to Castle and Frank to County.
Happily I could go back to play in Heol Bryn Man because Uncle Tommy, Aunty Lydia with cousins Howard aka Custard, & Malcolm had moved up there, that reattached my broken link with the Vaughans and John Woods, gave me new friends, friends of my cousins were my friends, namely Bernard Popp and Narrow; reinforced my link with Francis Harrington, which hadn't been broken due to his having an aunt and gran in North Street where I lived. I also went often to a family of friends round the back of Nantygwenith St. when visiting Aunty Mary in Georgetown, I'd see them at the Lines factory christmas party the once a year occasion when my hair would be smothered in vaseline, but I lost touch with them many moons ago and don't even remember their names.
Every sunday I would wear a collar & tie, cream shirt & suit and go with my brother to sunday school at St. Mary's church, Alexandra Rd. opposite the General Hospital and not very far from my gran's, it was a satellite of St. John's, Penydarren. I can vaguely recall putting on a choir boy's surplice and being told to walk down the aisle and bow, this I did with one arm in front and the other behind my back as I'd seen on tv; we didn't go there for long, St. John's itself was only a few hundred yards down in the next street so it was inevitable that we change churches. The hall of St. Mary's remained our social centre with many parties held there including apple bobbing at Halloween, both on a string and in a bowl of water, the idea being to bite out a chunk without the use of hands, not easy; St. John's also had a hall but i don't remember going there quite as often. For a little while there was a youth club in St. Mary's with games, as there was for a while at Horeb chapel where they also had a quiz in which I always did well.
When I was about nine we got a television, before this we'd go to neighbours' houses to watch 'The Lone Ranger' or go down to Mario Basini's parents' cafe on Penydarren High St. to watch 'Hawkeye' and at the same time to enjoy the Italian cafes' speciality, a steak & kidney pie, steamed by the nozzle of the coffee percolator inside an enclosed metal container, delicious with brown sauce! In my mind's eye I can still see a rather large Mario standing by his mother, brother and father behind the counter. On sunday afternoons there was a feature film, 'The Sunday Matinee', I persuaded my mother to let me watch it every other sunday, it was the thin end of the wedge and it wasn't long before I stopped going to sunday school altogether.
Before we had a television we used to play society games as a family, ludo and snakes & ladders, and there was always a pack of cards in the house; we listened to the radio, to the Archers, Mrs Dale's Diary would be on when I came home from school. I didn't notice the loss of the Archers when my father changed to the Light Programme, but I certainly noticed the transition to Radio One and Tony Blackburn at breakfast time before running up the lane to catch the school bus at the farm stop. My father had a record collection of 78s including Al Jolson and his favourite Vera Lynn but they were very fragile ending up as vases more often than not; we had a more modern collection that was always being built upon, it was mainly No 1s and our albums were compilations of the same except for musical soundtracks such as 'South Pacific' & 'The Sound of Music'. We communicated as families are wont to do, but post television, our home turned into a cinema, we'd be sat in a line, my father with his own armchair near the fire, we on the settee, looking at the screen in front of us only about a yard away, not allowed to speak anymore, unless it was to share an orange or a bar of chocolate bought down the road in Potters', meals were no longer eaten at the table but in front of the telly. When Dr Who became popular we were stuck in a time warp watching repeats of Richard Greene's Robin Hood, as we only had the one telly my father chose the programmes, then one day someone at work told him about it, after that it became one of our favourite programmes along with 'Coronation St. & 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium.' When the variety programmes were on he'd be quick to point out the Welsh artistes particularly Harry Secombe, Petula Clark (her mother was from Merthyr) and Shirley Bassey. But like many South Walians, on hearing a farmer on the Welsh news being ponderous in his English he took him to be semi-illiterate when he could possibly have been a Welsh speaking poet; our country was South Wales bordering on England, North Wales was foreign, strange, not like us.
We had trips to the seaside, either by coach or train to Barry Island at Whitsun and Porthcawl in the summer; I remember arriving in Barry Island in a rush to go in the water and persuading my parents to buy me a little plastic boat to take sailing, I took it sailing alright but nowhere near the sea, they wouldn't let me do what I got them to buy it for, which was fair enough I suppose if I was to go into the sea unsupervised, but I spent many hours playing with it back home in the bosh (kitchen sink).
My brother took me to the ABC Minors, full of adventure films and prizes for birthdays, some children used to go up every week to claim them. My brother is my elder by four years so naturally he got to see films that I missed out on. I was envious that he got to see Superman and Rock around the Clock whereas I got to see the inferior, in my view at the time, Batman and Twist around the Clock.
My parents took us to the public swimming baths in Gwaunfarren, where, because my brother used to constantly splash and tease me I was timorous of going in deep, preferring to stay on my feet; in order to encourage me my parents got me a plastic life belt, (with a duck's head), I was growing up in a hard mining area and I had to stand up for myself, but I'm afraid I was always their baby! I didn't learn to swim until Cyfarthfa School when our P.E. master, a hard rugby man by the name of Dan Jones made me jump in to sink or swim.
We went to Aberdare Park for its paddling pool and its boating lake, catching tadpoles, one year bringing a child's guitar back with me that I never learnt to play.
Growing up, the main sports were soccer, athletics, swimming, tennis & boxing, then later on rugby and some cricket.
Pontsarn is a local beauty spot where we would go bathing in the Tâf Fechan under the viaduct, below which there's the blue pool, infamous as a suicide spot, one day my brother badly gashed his foot on broken glass, luckily our packman Mr Jones was there with his car and drove him to hospital.
My parents often took us for country walks to Pontsarn in the summer, there was a pub called the Aberglais where we'd end up with my father having a pint, my mother a glass of shandy and my brother and myself packets of crisps & soft drinks before walking back home.
My playing areas were vaste, on the peripheries there were adventure playrounds of waste, slag & quarries ; we have much grassed over dross but unsurpassable natural aesthetics, Merthyr is surrounded by countryside, and as we broaden out there are some of the most scenic views in Cymru/Wales. On the other hand, anything built by man has either been knocked down or is in a decrepit state and is falling down. From my house and anywhere else at the top end of the Borough could be seen a remnant of the old ironworks, a slag tip, but magnificent in its domination of the town, it looked out over everything like a Mt. Rushmore but without the heads, it made Merthyr different, it was unique in its grandeur, it has now disappeared as roadfill. Below the Great White Tip or 'Whitey' as it was generally known was a huge tip of secondary waste that stretched from the old Dowlais Works to the old Penydarren Works above Trevethick St. at Penyard, opposite our house pathways had been made into the tip by the numbers of workmen making their way up to the factories that had been built on the top extending across from the Goat Mill Road, on windy days my brother and I would take advantage of the wind from the height and free space to run with our home made kites made from bamboo or balsa sticks and newspapers. My father used to send me down to the bottom of the new road with his barrow to fill up with this waste and take it back to the garden where he'd mix it with sand & cement to make first class mortar for work around the house.
I wouldn't have wanted to be brought up anywhere else, I could play on at least 7 different football pitches within walking distance; 4 different tennis courts; two municipal parks, not counting recreation grounds; there were 7 cinemas between Merthyr & Dowlais: The Oddfellows Hall & The Old Vic (Dowlais); The Victoria Cinema (Penydarren); The Theatre Royal; The Palace Cinema; The Castle Cinema with a lift that I just missed out on but which was used by my brother; and The Temperance Hall, later The Scala, there were 3 lucanias or 'Lukies' for billiards &snooker, Merthyr, Penydarren & Dowlais, again missed by me but frequented by my brother, the Penydarren one being converted by Eddie Thomas into a gym. My brother caught on to remnants of the old town while four years behind him I was growing up during the changes, there were innumerable tips and quarries, which to us were hills to climb and slide on; the clean tributaries where we could go swimming which lead to the dirty Taff, but there were others where we couldn't play, above my street there were two streams that ran underground, the Nant Dowlais & the Nant Morlais, they converged at the bottom of the New Road and ran openly into the Tâf at Abermorlais except for the culverts at the top & bottom of Trevethick St. and Pontmorlais, not as the Nant Morlais but as the Stinky; there was a single rope swing at Pwll Wat over the Taff near the Cyfarthfa Works, another over the confluence of the Tâf Fawr & Tâf Fechan and another in Heolgerrig; there were railway & limestone tunnels, I walked through the long & dark Aberdare railway tunnel, the shorter Pant railway tunnel, a limestone tunnel below Trefechan and the little tunnel under the main road where a stream ran into the Nant Morlais at Trevethick Street opposite the County school from the heights of Penydarren behind Royal Crescent, there was a pipe over the stream where the little ones & the fearful shuffled across and the older & braver walked; there was a big cave on the Tâf Fawr above the Cefn viaduct on the Cefn side below Howard Winstone's house; every area had a playground, or as I learned from cousin Glyn, 'recreation ground' with swings, roundabouts, slides & see-saws, the foolhardy tried to swing 360 degrees over the bar; long walks followed the rivers, railways & canal, and dangerous ones over old mineshafts; there was a Norman castle/ancient British fort to dream of the past where there is supposed to be a passage to the old courthouse, former home of the Lewis's of the Van, near Caerphilly Castle, sold by them in 1715 to pay the fines incurred for the indiscretion of supporting the Jacobite rebellion, descendants of Ifor Bach native Lord of Senghennydd, which encompassed this area, now the Labour Club the oldest building in town, I would love to see it proved either way; the highest hills in South Wales, Cilsanws led to Pen y Fan, Corn Du & Cribyn; Caeracca led over the moors of the limestone escarpments to the Chartists cave above the Sirhowy and the Trefil quarries.
Most of my playing was in Trevethick St. where I spent a lot of time with my gran as a second home where I could do what I liked; my aunty Cassie's home down the road was different, I felt free to open the door without knocking but once inside I would sit on the farthest chair from the fire by the door waiting for cousin Denise, I love Denise, when she entered I'd move with her to the settee, after which her mother would bring in delicious slabs of home made toffee; she is important in my life and there was only a school year between us, but I can't help thinking that if my gran hadn't been living 4 doors up I wouldn't have got to know her any better than any other of my cousins from my father's side of the family, When I wasn't in the street playing I'd have my meals with my gran, she baked a great rice pudding, and she would slice potatoes flat to fry in the pan instead of doing chips the way I was used to, and I felt posh eating strawberries & cream like during Wimbledon fortnight except that they were from a tin can. I used to go back there from sunday school and one time when small I remember joyfully walking quickly down the street because my birthday was on a sunday and I shared it with Jesus Christ. I used to read passages from the bible and psalms with my gran listening near the coal fire chimney grate that heated an oven either side. The house hadn't yet acquired electricity even though it was in a long street near the town centre, the lamps were regulated by little levers, for going upstairs at night there were candle holders, it was like stepping back to a previous century, even my non mod coms home had electricity, as did everyone else in town I thought. My gran decided to modernise the sink arrangements, while waiting to take down the old one the new one was put on the ground out the back, when the next door neighbours saw it they asked if they could have the old sink she'd thrown out! Gran used to have a harmonium with plugs and pedals that I played on, play as in plaything, I could never read a note and am as near to being tone deaf as it's possible to be, we had a piano at home and my brother took lessons, I suppose my father didn't see the point in wasting money on what he considered a futile exercise, in junior school an itinerant teacher came around seeking potential pupils for the violin, he gave me a voice test leading to my not being chosen. After electricity was finally installed my cousin Sylvia used to listen to Emperor Roscoe on Radio Luxembourg in the front room, the forerunner of pirate radio and Radio One, but the sound was infamous for its inconsistencies; also in the front room was a gramaphone with cabinet constructed by my father, it had a handwinder & pins and this is where I heard Elvis Presley for the first time singing Hound Dog & Heartbreak Hotel. Years later gran eventually bought a tv , on a saturday night my mother would take her down the pub for a few drinks leaving me alone in front of the screen to watch Welsh language programmes such as 'Hob y Deri Dando' & 'Disc a Dawn'. I'd watch Mary Hopkin singing in Welsh years before she became famous from her appearences on 'Opportunity Knocks' winning week after week, this would have been impossible at home. My gran was already getting on in age when I was still small, she hardly ever left the house except for when my mother sometimes took her out for a little tipple on a saturday night otherwise she liked to mull a mackeson at home i.e. stick a red hot poker in it, it was supposed to be beneficient health-wise, for the same reason there'd always be a little bottle of brandy in the pantry; I did a little bit of shopping like going around the corner to the Welsh Dairy opposite the General Hospital for cooked ham as she called it, I call it 'boiled'; otherwise her shop in the street was Mrs Shea's, she was a big woman who seemed to fill her seat all day long, day after day,behind the counter in the little front room seemingly never moving except to fetch our sweets from her stock of bottles in the window from where I bought my sherbet & gobstoppers etc., opposite was Gracia's, pronounced locally as 'Grasher's'; each family kept religiously to its respective retailer, my aunt did her shopping at Traylor's which was just around the corner from the bottom of the street, my mother bought my shoes from Mrs Traylor in another shop next door down, but there was one errand that I was sworn never to tell anyone, my gran would send me down Pontmorlais to Dando's tobacconists for a box of S.P. snuff which was her little secret, she was a closet snuff taker aware that it was frowned upon for reasons beyond my understanding, I found it a bit of a joke and she smiled with me. After cousin Sylvia grew up and gran was older she took over more of the decisions on running the house, some of the furniture was not to her taste, new & plastic was in, old wood & leather was either thrown out or destroyed including a beautiful what we called a couch, a chaise longue, made of leather and for lounging, having a head support with wooden railings leading down to an open other end, and the harmonium, I'm ashamed to say that I happily took part in their destruction with an axe, but it was fun at the time. I believe that one of the current mode of antique programmes would have been happy to see them. Trevethick St. was built on the remains of the old Penydarren Ironworks, it was a long street following the beginning of the Penydarren railway that carried Richard Trevithick's world's first steam locomotive to run on rails in 1804; there my brother taught me to ride Martin Weaver's bicycle when I was seven, finally getting one of my own put together by my father at ten, and a proper one bought at John Lewis's on Pontmorlais for passing my 11 plus. We played behind the gardens, sometimes walking along a narrow pathway high in the side of the tip, one day I slipped and fell 30 feet, narrowly missing the iron spikes of the garden railings, and certain death by inches, after that my father barred the way so we had to go right back to the top of the street to get onto it again. Carole Anne's house was on the top of the tip behind my gran's and in the weeks leading up to Guy Fawkes there was war between all the surrounding streets whilst collecting for the respective bonfires. On Guy Fawke's day there would be bonfires everywhere, every street had one, for days before, newspapers would be stuffed into old clothes to make the 'guy' which would be put onto a street corner to raise money for the fireworks then on the night he'd be sacrificed on top of the fire to burn. There was great sadness in the street when an older boy, our hero, the street leader, Howard Stevens, an only son, the person all we youngsters looked up to and followed when collecting for the bonfire died in a stupid accident whilst he and another boy were messing about with a knife in O.P.'s Merthyr. When for some reason we were stuck in the street Billie Doe's pine end would be our football pitch, cricket wicket and/or tennis court with the balls bouncing of the walls, hitting the wickets or going over the nets. Across the road from Billie's house is Penydarren Park the home address of the local football club, as a child I would cross the main road with Chris Jones, Martin Weaver, Georgie & Les Quirk, Alan Watkins, Malcolm Evans & Billy Doe to play in the old park in the grounds of the Homfray's Penydarren House, the ironworks mansion which was still standing and we'd run around inside, there were bluebells in the woods, now it's a private housing estate, in older times it was the site of a Roman fort linking Caerwent & Caerleon to Brecon via Gelligaer, at the time whilst playing we'd hear the crowds, 20,000 at its height, you can nearly count them on your hands now; we'd pass through or around the house, approach the fencing and climb over at the gaps, little did we know that we were watching a team that only a year or two previously had seen them the best non-league side in the whole of England & Wales for years on end, winning the Southern League title for 5 years out of 7, the Welsh League with their reserve side and countless cups including the Welsh. In those days teams were voted into the Football League; the pre war Penydarren Park outfit as Merthyr Town had already had an unhappy 10 years existence in the 3rd division south during the depression, now when they re-applied they weren't allowed back in even though it was a different set up and the two other sides that had won the championship once each were voted in. They couldn't keep it up and slipped into the doldrums, mild compared to the present situation, until Harry Griffiths took over as manager in 1964, he built up a good side bringing in ex-internationals and experienced 'league' players, namely Graham Vearncombe from Cardiff, Reg Davies who was a star with Newcastle and Colin Webster who'd played for Man. Utd., I was there for every home game, became friendly with Reg Davies's son and helped Frank Price's cousin Howard Davies sell match programmes, their had a sellers' league published in the top quality programme, they built the Martyrs club on the Penydarren/Galon Uchaf border to help finance the team, everything was looking good, there were crowds of 4 to 5 thousand when near the top of the league and winning matches with high scores, with many games in hand due to the long cup runs that were to be our downfall, the points weren't in the bag, but points count, we let other teams climb above us and we failed to catch up, we got into a serious backlog making life difficult, in the end losing out on promotion to Wimbledon who later climbed up into the football league, as did John Charle's Hereford who I watched beat us at the park. Harry Griffiths left to join Swansea and built a team to take them into the old first division nominally under new manager John Toshack. We went racing 'around the block', putting strings to door knockers, playing rounders and football in the street, playing football & cricket in Thomastown old park, playing football on the old pitch on the hill to Incline top, on the Greenie and on the Legion, walking to Morlais Castle & Penyfan, playing in Cyfarthfa Park, swimming in the Tâf Fechan, climbing & sliding down the slag tips, most of this was duplicated with my Penydarren playmates in North Street except that Billy Doe's pine end was replaced by the back wall to my neighbours' outside toilets at the bottom of the gardens, there was a piece of wasteland separating them from the road, and we played football on the 'Bont.' Down in the next street there was a boy by the name of Mostyn Jones, for some reason we didn't get on, one day we met up in town, started a fight when an old lady passing by gave us threepence each to stop
When the sunday school organized trips at Whitsun to Barry Island we'd go on the Morlais buses, and for some reason the childrens' favourite driver was Tudor, married to Peggy, Mrs Shea's daughter, probably because he was generally recognized as the best driver and partly because of his gentleness of character that the children instinctively empathised with; there was always a great cheer when overtaking the slower Morlais driver in front.
Not many of us went on summer holidays, instead we sometimes went on the Morlais coaches for excursions to the Cotswolds or to visit one of the great houses of England. Our running joke was: "where did you go for your holidays?", the answer: "Remainya" (remain here), sounding like an exotic holiday to Roumania but meant that we didn't go anywhere. My father had a cousin Eddie, brother to Jimmy his best man who was one of the directors but they hadn't kept in touch, I knew his daughter, my cousin Rosalyn because she went to castle but was slightly older.
I never broke any bones as a child, the nearest I came was badly bruising my right hand jumping on one of Morlais buses, they were coaches, not regular buses, for excursions and taking the miners down the valley to & from work, they had a reputation, perhaps undeservedly, because I'd never heard first hand, of girls going to dances in white, arriving with coal dust spattered coats & dresses, spoiling their night out, the depot was at the top of Trevethick St. in the remnants of the old Penydarren Ironworks next to the Traction electricity generating yard, the buses on leaving the yard had to descend the street, arriving on the flat they'd slow down to turn sharply right, this is where I'd jump on, one day I grabbed hold of the opening, only for the sliding door to slam shut on my hand; I managed to disengage it and walk up to the accident & emergency dept. of St. Tydfils hospital, we could walk straight in and never waited long, it looked as though it was the result of a fight so the doctor scolded me for the wrong reason; another time that this place came in handy was a few years later after a Plaid Cymru 'do' in Tiffany's, we were going into the castle car park in town when a group of boys who'd also been there started tapping on the car, some were members of the rugby club, one of them playing in the pack for the first team, although they didn't have the status in those days they have now having gained promotion year upon year, these were mainly local boys; I got out of the car, walked up to them, when one punched me hard in the neck, I stood up to them and took another punch, I recognized one or two and and told them they were going to be reported, I got back in the car, went to the police station, reported what had happened only for the desk sergeant, when I'd given him a name of one of the protagonists, not to take note because he was a friend of the family and he'd been there at the birth, I don't suppose I would have pushed it anyway, but I wanted to teach them a lesson, anyway, back to the point, I went up to the hospital, saw some young nurses who told me to lower my trousers & pants for an anti- tetanus injection, there was no need because I wasn't cut, but they had their wicked way with me. A little while later at a rugby club dance I was asked by the sergeant's friend if I'd been to the police station so I told him the story.
Every summer Uncle Harry, my father's brother who was in the army in Burma and never came back to home to Cymru/Wales to live would bring the family down on the train, as a railway worker he had beneficial rates, Aunty Mary, cousins Dorothy & Glyn would catch the train to Cardiff General, change to Merthyr, get out at John St., catch our only traditional black hackney cab to disembark at No. 26 Trevethick St.; Aunty Cassie's; she was the family catalyst who kept in touch with everyone; I would join them to visit others of the family, go to the seaside or a restaurant in Caerdydd/Cardiff. One day we were in Barry Island at the front and we all went to the bingo stall, I think everybody won something except me so Uncle Harry & Auntie Mary very supportively let me play on until I became successful, I chose a 'Brylcreem' hair cream dispenser for my father, they bought me a little plastic camera allowing me to take photos on the beach, they all having proper decent cameras, Uncle Harry took the negatives home, developed them himself and sent the photos to me; another time we were all sitting in an Italian restaurant near St. John's church next to the Old Arcade in Cardiff when on nearly finishing my soup I tilted my plate towards myself and lifted the spoon & soup to my mouth, whereby working class cousin Glyn laughingly berated me for not having followed etiquette by which I should have tilted the soup plate away, not having been taught that in Merthyr I wasn't to know; however, now living in Brittany, I feel more comfortable with everyone doing it my way.
Howard Winstone's parents lived a few hundred yards down the road on the High Street, he was one of the best proponents of the noble art who has ever taken it up, every time he won a championship title the street would be decorated like the festival of Britain with bunting everywhere, an elegant, stylish wisp of a boxer who won on points due to having lost fingers on his right hand when younger in a press at the local toy factory, and who became world featherweight champion at the fourth attempt against the Japanese boxer Mitsunoro Seki after 3 epic battles against a bull of a Mexican by the name of Vincente Saldivar who retired after the 3rd fight exhausted. Eddie Thomas's gym was just down the road where I was fortunate as a youngster to watch Howard and other world champions training including Ken Buchanan the Scottish world lightweight champion who was taken out unfairly by Roberto Duran of Panama, I even put on gloves and climbed into the ring. I lived 3 doors down from Ray Phillips, an amateur boxing champion who after a mining accident, in his words "did all the bottom discs" in his back so he took up darts and after moving back gradually from the board trained his arm to throw from the correct distance becoming world doubles champion with David (Roxy) Jones from Rhymney, a formidable achievement.
My father used to have his newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Empire News on a sunday, which was bought out and replaced by the News of the World, a paper famous for its titillating stories, a must read for teenagers wanting to have their eyes and minds opened to non academic affairs, sex education the old way, whilst I and my brother had the Dandy & Beano, which my father had read before us, of which I found an example, an old copy minus the wealth of photos as it was decades earlier, in my parents' bedroom wardrobe. When growing up and deciding to change to comics more suitable for my age I had great difficulty in doing so, the Dandy & Beano being so much a part of the family, eventually I managed to persuade my mother to subscribe to the hornet from Lewis's newsagents which always managed to run out when there were free gifts.
When I was twelve years old we went on our first ever family summer holiday, my parents rented a caravan in Lavernock Point, the place where Marconi's message was first received, from another Walters family higher up the street who were the local undertakers, their carpentry shop where they made the coffins was a few buildings up and I used to hold my breath as I walked past, I did the same thing walking past the street's chapel cemetery, I don't know why, however I digress, my brother and I would go crab fishing in the rock pools after the tide had gone out with limpets that we'd prised away from the rocks and attached to the end of strings. There was a shop on the site that sold something that was to change my whole outlook on life; Superman D.C. comics: The Justice League of America; Superman; Batman; Aquaman; The Green Lantern; Green Arrow; Wonderwoman; Hawkman; The Flash; The Atom, with their offshoots; Superboy; Supergirl; Starboy; Brainiac; Lex Luther; I was mesmerized and never read a book again for many, many years. I bought and read 12 in the fortnight I was there and a girl in the caravan next door bought me another one for my birthday. There was one thing in them that would be go against the grain in todays philosophic awareness; they always had a feature, eager to show how the native Americans were becoming assimilated, joining in as full members of society, becoming good Americans leaving their heritage behind, and they'd give examples. When I got back to Merthyr I found Tanner's on Penydarren High St. selling them, I couldn't get them in my own newsagent' Lewis's nearer to my house. A few years later I had so many that I decided to sell them up in Dowlais Market, a decision I regret; I got a penny each for them, which was nowhere near their face value, and to top it all they were first editions, No 1s; I'd gotten in at the beginning, today they would be priceless. Although I said I stopped reading books, I never lost my taste for reference books, and I was subscribed to 'Knowledge Encyclopaedia', it came out in monthly editions and cost 2 shillings, at least I was subscribed until my mother cut off the subscription for no other reason that she didn't see the point, too much learning being bad for the brain. On a rainy day I'd read my comics or sometimes connect a jigsaw puzzle or once or twice I constructed a model aeroplane only for it to be thrown out for cluttering up the place, a few times I'd try my hand at knitting only for my efforts to be unravelled every time I put it down, I think the knitting worried my parents more than the bunking to come, it didn't help in my father's eyes that I was wary of worms going back to an incident when I was a toddler. On saturday nights when my parents were at their 'local' I'd get out my Arthur Mees, I'd be totally absorbed for hours on end reading about history, geography, art & artists, poets & poetry, I would read Lord Macauley's 'How Horatius kept the bridge' over & over, so it was particularly galling when my father gave them away to be accused of never reading them, he wouldn't know would he, not having been there to see.
Back to school and the 11 plus examinations, it was tremendously nerve racking as I waited for the results declaring that I'd passed and was on my way to Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School because I'm a 'W', Walters, one of the last names to be called out. If I hadn't gone to Cyfarthfa all my childhood dreams would have been shattered. C.C.G.S. on the blazer pocket surrounding Saint Tydfil. "Castell Cyfarthfa, Caer i Ddysg a Hêdd". In the junior school it was basically my reading ability and what I read, together with my common sense that got me passing exams, I never did any homework, my ideas would have to radically change in the new school, things were obviously expected of me because they put me in the new, experimental fast stream with all the top scholars, it was the proudest moment of my life, that first morning we'd moved into a different world, a similar feeling would occur to the children sitting around me as they moved on to university, I was taking it all in as the headmaster was going over the previous year naming the alumnis and setting out the year to come, appointing the headboy & girl. I can still smell the leather from all the brand new satchels, we were formed into 'houses', I was in 'Hywel Dda' blue, others were in 'Llewelyn' yellow, 'Caradog' red & 'Owain Glyndwr' green, Welsh heroes, patriots I'd never even heard of at the time, but I knew of Hereward the Wake & The Venerable Bede; ironically to my young mind we seemed to be singing 'Jerusalem' far too often in assembly for my taste. The houses, although bringing to mind the English public school system, there were no house masters, it was mainly for sporting competitions & eisteddfodau; the eisteddfod was an important aspect of school life, it took place once a year with unbiased local academic dignitaries being invited to adjudicate, and we prepared for it, rehearsing rigorously for months beforehand, at least it seemed like it, so that the quality was at as high a level as possible to perform as near to faultlessly as possible on the day, especially the choirs; there was a pianist by the name of Ann Hooley who was head and shoulders above everybody else, definitely in a class of her own, she played the piano magnificently, real virtuoso performances; it was my first contact with Welsh institutional culture and the word 'adjudicate'. I used to sing 'flat' but have managed to rise above it, always having had an instinctive natural rhythm which made me a good dancer.
Duty called one day leading me to the Hywel Dda choir practice, not for long because my voice was spoiling the harmony, they asked me to leave, I had a reputation for missing classes, so when Havard Walters came past seeing me standing outside he came to the obvious, but wrong, conclusion and ordered me back in, the choir leader wasn't happy to see me so we mutually agreed that I leave again.
Cynan Jones* a music teacher whose spare time job was conducting Côr Meibion Treorci/Trorchy Male Choir convinced himself he'd found a diva of the future in the person of Lynne Pugh, a big girl with an equally big voice, I suppose she was a contralto, but I regret that her singing didn't do much for me. We had a school song I remember to this day, the first verse anyway:
Ienctyd y castell, caer i ddysg a hêdd,
Gloywn ein harfau i'r gâd ddi-glêdd.
Byddwn yn deilwng blant i enwog lu,
Dewrion Morgannwg y dyddiau fu.
Byddwn yn deilwng blant i enwog lu,
Dewrion wyr Morgannwg y dyddiau fu.
to the tune of the march 'Men of Glamorgan’.
Havard Walters became acting headmaster on the death of W. Lloyd Williams (Flash)(The Boss), but didn't get the job, it was given to John Davies a rugby player from the Rhondda; he had an emotional, excitable nature that scared the living daylights out of Mrs Goodall at moments she could hear him reprimanding the school misfits in the corridor outside her classroom; he later left to become head of Treorchy Comprehensive where he was joined by Cynan Jones, he in turn joined Cynan as chairman of the choir.
I thought my future lay here, but I didn't belong to the same culture; in fact I had none! I didn't even know that bread was toasted on both sides we had an electric toaster with a flap on either side so I got it like that, that you could have butter on toast as well as margarine, and thanks to cousin Marion that you could even put jam on it, I didn't know that breakfast cereal should be eaten with cold milk, before I found out, I couldn't abide warm soggy weetabix, since then I enjoy it; I couldn't figure out why people would want to drink lemon tea thinking it was likely to curdle; It wasn't until I was 21 or 22 that I found out you could eat spaghetti other than from a tin, see above; my favourite singers were Elvis Presley & Frankie Laine; my favourite actor Robert Mitchum, & actress Natalie Wood.
In the summer break between primary & grammar schools I was walking in Thomastown old park with cousin Denise when we came across a gang of Twyn boys playing around, in, on top & in the roof of a shelter, Denise introduced me to Stewart McIntyre who'd also passed his '11 plus' to 'Castle' so she told him to look out for me, we became friends and one time in Mrs Thomas's French lesson I was told off for having lent him my comb; Stewart had an advanced complex brylcreemed hair style for his age that meant combing it back and then in a sophisticated way for an 11 year old to gently bring it back over the forehead with the grease holding it all in place.
The school was inside Cyfarthfa Castle, a gothic mansion with a window for every day of the year wonderfully situated in its own grounds that became a forested municipal park with two lakes when the original owners, the Crawshay family of ironmasters left Cymru/Wales to move definitively to their other mansion at Caversham Park, Reading. There was a chart on a wall near the cloakroom marking the territory 'out of bounds' but nobody paid any attention, there were trees to be climbed, paths to be walked, swings to be swung, tennis to be played and a lake to be walked in the winter. Inside there was a mysterious spiral staircase behind the round library that took one to the heights of the tallest tower where the whole valley was laid out to the south.
My first friends of the new school were: Anthony (Antos) Jones & Peter (Greg) Griffiths, the 3 little ones of class 2D (2D was really 1D, but we had: 2; 3; lower 4; upper 4; 5 & 6 and in another twist, D was our A); we used to run up to the baths at Gwaunfarren where I learned to swim; and Peter Morgan, whose parents had a paper shop on Brecon Rd., I sat behind him in our registration class; In one lesson I sat in front of Julian Cooper and next to Colin Treharne, when I learned they'd come from Gellideg Juniors I asked them who was the best fighter there, the reply was my cousin Howard aka Custard (who were the best & the hardest was an important part of Merthyr culture). In Penydarren school Susan Regan & Richard Gray were top of the class, but such was the academic level here, percentage wise they didn't reach the same heights.
I'd led a sheltered first 11 years in a cocooned family based, friendly but unscholarly society, a friend's father asked me if I was a swot, It was the first time I'd heard the word, one day I'd heard that a watch had been stolen from the changing rooms after we had returned from rugby, the headmaster was looking for the first children back, as I thought I had been one of the first I caught up with a friend who'd been with me and we went off to see the headmaster completely innocently, purely to help, with no thought that we could have been suspected which we weren't, and I was only sorry that I couldn't have done more to help.
Our school buses were Merthyr Corporation double deckers, at first they'd take us to the top gate and we'd walk down an old carriage driveway, then later they'd take us right up to the school. Usually the boys were upstairs and the girls were downstairs but I have vague memories of sitting next to Rita Davenport and opposite Elizabeth Barbara going home in my second year. I had a choice of buses; I could catch the Penygarnddu bus from the 'Farm' stop up the lane at the back of the house near the Penydarren flats or I could catch the Dowlais bus from the 'Surgery' in front of the house on the High Street. I usually caught the 'Farm' bus, most probably originally because my early friend, the charismatic Antos caught it from his home in Penygarnddu. The biggest and hardest sat upstairs at the back, each year we advanced towards it until we finally got there. At break times we'd go to the tuck shop in the castle forecourt for jubblies to cool us down and hot dogs to fill us and warm ourselves up.
For some reason we had to wait a year before we could play rugby, when we played soccer, no questions asked the players would be divided into two teams picked by Leighton Samuels & Michael Scannel, I seem to remember Leighton leaving early on, whilst Michael was a naturally talented all-round sportsman who was signed on to Chelsea's books. I remember my first time with a rugby ball in hand, our sports master coaching us on the top field next to the Bryn Cae Owen or Top pond, my first lesson was exhilarating, knocking the spots off soccer, but in later years he'd stay in the staff room for a smoke, before which he'd throw us a ball, tell us to go down to the Pandy football pitch and keep out of the gym! There were weights but we rarely had the chance to use them, one day Antos went in there unsupervised, lost his balance, went through the glass doors and finished up in hospital.
Although I was good in some subjects I was bad in others bringing my average down, meaning I wasn't considered good enough to stay in the 'D' stream, so I began my second year in 3A; I mentioned earlier that I related more to the teacher than to the subject; I wasn't any good at maths under Mr. Barbarini, under Mr. Warrender I was top in all the tests, arithmetic, geometry & algebra; with Mrs Goodall I was average to not good in history, with young miss Anne Sullivan I was in the top 3, she was Ewan Park's cousin so together with David Walker she'd give us a lift home; I was good in French when taught by Mr (Twiddles) Davies, not good when taught by Mrs Thomas; in English with Mr Lee, when I made mistakes he would write in red "see me", I always thought it was to be given a row so I never went, therefore didn't learn; although I was never bad in English I had to rely on grammar because my essays always let me down, I tried to write what I thought the teacher wanted, looking for deliberate structure instead of writing as or what I felt, and getting it wrong every time, always complicating the issue where it wasn't needed; Dewi Sant/St David said "do the little things in life," I thought big things were necessary to make an impression only I didn't have the necessary tools. In my geography exam, never having learned a lot with Miss Vowles but knowing a lot from my own books I made a conscious tactical decision to keep things simple and I passed; I was bad in science because I was always taught by Mr (Tommy Test Tube) Thomas, in my opinion the worst teacher in the school, I was never any good in art whether it was Mr Bowen or Miss Thomas, and for some reason I was bad in R.E. (Religious Education) with Mr. Hill, a subject I had an interest in, reading the bible to my gran. The bad teachers had it differently in those days, there was a Mr Lewis, a maths teacher who had a predilection for throwing hard blackboard erasers, one day he thought that Colin Treharne was being disruptive so he threw the eraser at him resulting in Colin's father coming down the school and Mr Lewis not throwing anything again, at least not at Colin anyway. Tommy Test Tube had a fondness for hitting boys over the head, one day giving a slap to a boy whose head hit the desk and bounced back up; there was a small statured boy in the class we called Didi after the Brazilian World Cup football player, there was laughter when Tommy repeatedly shouted at him to get off his stool and stand up, he was standing, that didn't prevent Tommy leaving his desk ready to punish him until he saw for himself.
I had a choice between Welsh or French, I was up into the 80s with Twiddles in French and in the 70s with Miss Jones in Welsh, there was no trace of the language in my family even though my father told me that his mother went to Ynysgau (pronounced Ynysgoi) Welsh chapel, I chose Welsh because it was a birthright that had been denied me, I'd never heard it spoken and, like Frank Hennessey, I didn't believe it was spoken anymore, then one day I was learning a passage from a Welsh text book aloud in my garden when my neighbour curious, addressed me in Welsh, from that day I discovered that nearly all my direct neighbours spoke the language of heaven, it changed my outlook on life.
Dropping out of the Ds into the As changed my life, it was Stewart McIntyre in 3A who got me on the roads to Brecon, Hereford etc., but it was Colin who accompanied me to the As to become Tom Sawyer to my Huckleberry Finn or vice-versa in our adventures when we should have been in school; it began when Stewart wanted to miss a lesson not wanting to do it alone, but I missed a second lesson. I was outside in the toilets when Nero, deputy head and history teacher appeared at a door and crossed the yard towards me, he caught hold of my ear, took me back inside to Flash the headmaster's office where I was told I could be expelled but was happy to settle for 6 of the best, I should have taken heed of the warning but it was another lesson not learned. In that same year: Colin Treharne; Stewart McIntyre; Stuart Bartz and myself sat in the the back row of Vincent Lee's English class getting up to things that would make Pat Harris & Elaine Bracey look under the desks to see what we were doing.
Totally naïve and innocent up till then, I didn't leave my chrysalis until I attained the age of 12, I went to grammar school at 11 so I had one year there before my shedding of the old skin and reappearing into scholarly limbo for 2 or 3 years, it was at this point that my childhood dream turned into my teenage nightmare, I crossed over from one world to another; I used to play out of bounds; opposite the Cefn entrance to the school grounds and down a lane was the Efi-Astex plastics factory, and higher up the lane back towards Brecon Rd. opposite the gates was an old house which was used as an unsecured warehouse full of novel plastic household, mainly kitchen implements; in the garden were two air raid shelters in which my friends & I found mattresses so we used them as dens; those plastic implements were like childrens toys and many were attracted to play with them like bees to honey, most of them children from our school, with no sense of the seriousness of what they were doing, there were certain implements that were used amongst the pupils as plastic conkers, it was all in fun until one day we were in our den in the garden when we heard voices calling to us, we climbed out to see 3 men, 2 of whom were detectives, we were accused of larceny and taken to court charged with having broken in and and stolen plastics, which were in the hands as toys of a fully 2 years, 8 classes of pupils up the road, in court I was quoted as having said "we were only playing" being naïve we accepted our punishment which was a 12 months conditional discharge for having done nothing but building a den in a garden of an open unsecured, leaking warehouse, all the same I felt contaminated, lost my purity, dirty & defiled, I had brought dishonour to myself and to the school, I was never the same after that, these were my dark days, I lost my self respect, unable to look other people in the face, a cloud of shame was over my head, I was scarred badly, mentally disconnected from my peers, no self esteem any more, my confidence gone, only gradually readjusting over a period of at least 10 years, the scars are still with me because of the height from which I fell, I was no longer innocent, and I felt it heavily. Pride comes before a fall and I was so proud that first year in the top class, and in my imagination here I was having my buttons ripped off and my sword snapped with the consequent loss of rank and banishment from the officers' mess, a feeling I've always carried with me. I'd previously had 6 of the best but this was different, I felt cast out, to make it worse I took to missing lessons on a regular basis, going out through the toilet windows, through the woods, Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer style, camping inside the cover of a huge rhododendron bush where Lakeside Gardens is now, drinking fom a natural spring nearby, I’ve often wondered whether any of the houses are suffering from damp; we went up the river or hitch hiking to Brecon mainly, many is the time that I visited the South Wales Borderers' museum and the municipal museum less often, but also to Abergavenny and even to Hereford Cathedral and always back by 4 o'clock to catch the school bus home, sometimes we'd go down to the old age club on Penydarren High Street near Mario Basini's family café, we'd play snooker, often Ed Walters was there from County school holding court wearing his beige Parka, Ed was Andrew's brother, a friend from school, he was a good footballer, another who later joined Chelsea; sometimes we'd help the milkman on his rounds in Cefn. We couldn't take our school satchels with us so we'd hide them in the woods to pick up later before catching the bus home, one day I carried mine into town and hid it in the bushes opposite Brecon Rd. at the beginning of the road to Abermorlais school on the British Tip, but when I went back to collect it at the end of the day, horror of horrors, it had disappeared together with my exercise & text books, the mists of time prevent me from remembering how I got out of that one. I fell into the wrong company, meeting the boys on the streets who cared nothing for education and who were already giving advice on the best solicitors in town, they were 12 & 13 year old drop outs, rebels, who make me cynical of so called drop outs who 'rebel' once they are safe with their diplomas, degrees or rich parents and go to 'Woodstock' or Nepal. Prominent amongst the faces I would regularly bump into during my wanderings in town were Joe Murphy, Philip Evans & Tommy Harris. We would bump into each other at Merthyr's mid-week winter games, one evening one of them came up to me telling me they had a willing girl in the bushes and did I want to join in, I didn't take him up on the offer, it would have been my first time but I preferred to wait for a more meaningful occasion, my self confidence & self esteem having a little earlier been shot to pieces I would have to wait awhile before I could get it all together again.
It was during this time Billy Smart's Circus came to town, I helped them put the seats in and got free tickets, I didn't need them because I got a job selling ice cream twice a night for a week, my first ever paid job, the smells and sounds really got to me, I was there every day from morning to night only going home for tea, I was chatting to the itinerant labourers, staring at the beautiful girls who were to ride the elephants in their magnificent costumes and going into the zoo admiring the animals especially Burma their largest elephant who I'd pat on her trunk hoping she'd remember me, I even spent one of my days off with them in Cardiff, it was magic and I felt I belonged. I had a good friend for a week who sold ice-cream with me and never saw him after that, his name was Brian McCarliffe a hard independent type from behind Bethesda St. in the area of the old 'China', roughest part of Merthyr in the 19th century, home to Shoni Sgubor Fawr who was later involved in the Rebecca riots and a no-go area for the police, I was taking risks because I was selling to teachers bringing their families, luckily not recognizing me.
My mother got to know through Gerald Williams down the street that I hadn't been to school for 3 months, she came into the house with a mixture of bemusement and anger wanting to know what was going on and waiting to tell my father, our toilet was outside, so I made a pretence of wanting to go, when my mother wasn't watching I slipped away to Kerry Jones's house in Penyard, knocked the door, his father answered, he was in the bath, I took a chance and waited half an hour before knocking again, this time it was Kerry, he gave me a jacket and cake, which I stuffed in a pocket, I had ideas of Kerry joining me in running away to the Midlands. I made my way to the Gellideg Estate, found my cousin Howard who took me to Narrow's house where he let me spend the night in a small shed that passed for his dog's kennel, I had to be out early before his father brought out his breakfast. I arose in the early hours, no-one else was about, I went for a walk around the ash tips, thought things over, decided not to run away, went to see my aunt at No. 26, Trevethick St. then my gran at No. 30, returned home where my mother gave me a bowl of hot water to stand in when the police arrived and one of them made a joke about my getting cold feet. My mother had asked a journalist not to write anything because she didn't want her 80 years old mother to fret; the following day the article appeared in the weekly rag that I was missing.
When my mother worked at the OP chocolate factory, school would finish at 4 o'clock, I'd catch the bus to the farm stop, get off, walk down the lane to the back gate, walk down the path to the back door, put my hand through the letter box, pull out the string with the key on the end of it, open the door, put my satchel down, take off my jacket, light the paper under the sticks before putting on the coal for the fire, switching on the television and sitting down to watch 'Crossroads' at 4.30pm, that was my daily ritual when about 14 years of age. My mother would bring packets of chocolate wafer biscuits home from the Dowlais factory, I would gluttonlously see off whole packets of about 30 biscuits by myself; my cousin Sylvia lived with gran and worked at the Merthyr factory in the old Taff Vale Brewery in Danyparc, she too would take packets home where I would also indulge, I put on weight by scoffing rubbish, my teenage diet being chocolate, fizzy pop from the Corona factory, crisps & chips, I remember tasting the first 'Tudor' cheese & onion flavoured crisps brought out by a firm from Caerdydd/Cardiff, until then crisps were 'Smiths' with twisted sachet salt, sometimes having more than one sachet which was like finding an egg with a double yoke, later 'Golden Wonder' came out with salt & vinegar, developing new tastes and taking a huge part of the market. Having eaten so much rubbish when young I developed a more disciplined approach to sweet things, staying away from chocolates, biscuits, cakes etc.
In Penydarren David Showers moved into Urban St. he was a prize winning athlete and had a younger cousin Derek, who growing up was a prolific scorer in his school teams and later played for Cardiff & Cymru/Wales. Dai and I used to run around the tracks in Gwaunfarren and do a bit of shot putting, I remember there was a girl living nearby by the name of Susan? Black, a top athlete in County who trained there now & again, Dai really fancied her, being an athlete himself he admired & respected her talents, she was also a sexy girl; he came from the bottom of Dowlais and was always returning there to see his old mates and family from Walter St. so his mates became my mates, including Noel Davies and the O'Brien brothers; one summer I helped them deliver shoes from the cobblers on Pant road; we'd get off with the girls in Urban St. I remember waiting for my parents to go out so we could take them inside and on other times we'd go to his house, one time there 4 or 5 of us boys there when one of the girls went upstairs leaving us an invitation to climb after her but nobody had the courage to take her up on it. Neighbour Geoffrey arranged for a few of us to go to meet some girls at a house in Pant on our pushbikes where after a game we paired off with the girls for the afternon, our bikes took us on many journeys, usually to Brecon via the Storey Arms, a long climb for half the way then a speedy descent, both ways; another famous descent was at the other end of the borough at Quakers' Yard where we could overtake the cars.
There were hills everywhere, we lived in the valleys, to go five miles across meant going more miles down to the mouth of the other valley and then countless miles back up again, every valley had its self sufficient towns each with its petty jealousies, but if we were to flatten the hills it would have been the largest industrial agglomeration in the world. Our two millionaire brothers, Peter & Stan Thomas had/have a beautiful sister Mary who was very friendly with cousin Denise, on one occasion they decided to cross over into the next valley on foot by walking over Aberdare Mountain behind Abercanaid and I, Barbara Powell and one other went with them. When we got to the top we turned around to have a clear view over Merthyr, Mary's house very visible with its painted stripe exactly opposite on the other side of the valley in Thomastown. We carried on down the mountain on the other side through the ferns into the Cynon valley where we were stuck until someone picked us up took us back to Merthyr and dropped us off in front of the town hall.
I would use my pushbike to rediscover 'lost' family that I'd heard my parents speak of but whom I'd never met; also on my bicycle I would visit Stuart Bartz in Plymouth St. beyond the bottom of town whose house contained a big wooden rocking horse an adult could have ridden upon, Stuart would also come up to Trevethick St. Another who'd come to the Street was Taire (Terry) Docton who lived up the road parallel with the General Hospital up the Avenue.
I never usually went to the cinema by myself, during term time we'd arrange in advance in school or during the holidays we'd go directly from the street, although in saying that, many's the time in school I'd arrange with Chris, get to his house in Trevethick St., knock the door, his mother would answer that he wasn't coming out, I didn't learn. One time I wanted to see a film but I had my pushbike with me, I chained it to a fence outside the Castle Cinema and went in, I paid, was shown to my seat and a few minutes later a man sat down next to me, I didn't feel comfortable and changed seats, he followed me; I moved again but kept my head down, when I looked up again he was wandering in the aisle, it sent shivers down my spine but I stayed till the end of the two films and didn't see him again. I think it was the same man who I met on a bus and he tried to get me to meet him in town, I told my father about it an he was adamant that I shouldn't go.
Many of my friends went fishing, especially Martin Weaver, so I went to the local sports shop, told my mother the price of a rod but didn't get it, therefore I couldn't join in with cousin Glyn when he brought his rod with him from Lancaster to go fishing in the Goetre Pond, which has since been drained for house building, a large part of the Cyfarthfa Park perimeter walk was taken out for a road to those houses.
When my friends went fishing I changed friends. I'd walk to Kerry Lloyd's bungalow on Galon Uchaf Rd. above 'The Dangerous Hill' and just below 'The Greenie' football pitch; his father was Alderman Tal Lloyd, a Trades Union executive with the AEU, he who got us our first house and famous for his defeat to S.O. Davies in the by-election of 1970 for one of the most rock solid Labour seats in Gt. Britain. Kerry's mother's christian name was Wyn so they named their bungalow 'Talwyn', it was detached but had a neighbouring bungalow where lived Keith Williams & his sister Dawn. Roger Burgum lived in a detached house near the Penydarren Flats where his father built a retailers in the garden which became known as 'The Farm Shop', as a child I had a bow & arrow but Roger had an archery set laid out in the garden complete with straw targets, brought up with 'Red Indians' & Robin Hood as I was it was a dream come true, our garden would have been too small. I'd go down to Raymond Davies's house in Cyres St., behind Penydarren School, we all called him Specky due to his wearing spectacles; after he became proficient in karate they didn't call him Specky any more but a more respectful Ray. I would go up to Galon Uchaf to Norman Davies's house, he later became Chief Planning Officer for the Borough. I would play wih the gang of Horeb St. & Lewis St. and/or I would go to Paul Deekes's house where he lived with his cousins Lyn(ne) and Cheryl Jones, their father was the detective who walked into the garden of the old house belonging to Efi-Astex Plastics that led to my ending up in court at 13 years of age, he didn't recognize me, later on I would get to know him better from his devoted following of Merthyr Tydfil AFC. There was a boy from junior school who I used to visit up in the 'Mush' whose name was Alan Giles; the 'Mush' short for 'Mushroom Town' was a predominantly catholic area near Gellifaelog School and opposite Dowlais Catholic Church & School. There weren't many catholics in Merthyr, they were mostly Irish who came over for work during the industrial 'revolution', there was bad blood between them and the Welsh historically because they were willing to work for next to nothing at the time the Welsh were setting up Trades Unions, thereby making it easier for the bosses to sack the organizers; they had two large churches, one in Dowlais and the other on Brecon Rd., Merthyr, so being in the minority, in order to keep their community strong they infiltrated the Labour Party to successfully control the local authority; Terry Mahoney who became chairman of Mid-Glamorgan was originally a Liberal but on marrying into the McNamaras it was his Irish duty to change to Labour; there were also the Spanish who came from the Basque mines bought out by the Dowlais works and the Italians who ran the ice-cream parlours, strangely although there were thousands of them running cafes spread over the valleys they all came from the same little village of Bardi in Parma Province.
One weekend, myself and a few of the Trevethick St. boys went up to Penyfan & the Neuadd Reservoirs to enjoy the wilderness in seclusion without a living soul near us, tickling trout from the stream and cooking it over the camping gaz, although we had axes to cut wood; Chris & I had never done this before, but Martin was the all action experienced outward bounds boy, so imagine our surprise when a car pulled up on the Roman track at the top of the hill and Martin's parents got out bringing him food.
There was one glorious summer when a girl by the name of Jennifer Jones came to stay with her sister in Trevethick St. during the school holidays, she was a pupil at Cyfarthfa the same age but we had never met, I made sure that I was down the street every day, she was very attractive in a simple but sympathetic way and to my beholding eyes she was beautiful, but I was second in the queue, Roger Powell (sadly to leave us at far too young an age) had fallen for her hook, line & sinker, buying her presents, he was doing the running and there was no more room on the track, all too soon the holidays came to an end and one day I found myself a yard or two in front of her at the top gate entrance to school, we walked all the way down the long drive, she must have wondered why I didn't speak, but my inferiority complex had kicked in, I was totally overawed and lacking in self-confidence, she was too good for me, during the holidays we had a certain distant rapport but we were back in school and graded, I had fallen from the intellectual 'D's to the working class 'A's and I had trouble relating to the middle class 'B's, her class.
One of my best friends early in life when still in infants school was a boy by the name of John Wayne Phillips, he lived in Garth Villas around the corner from the street where I was to live years later, he moved away to London when still young but would come back on holidays every now and again hardly ever meeting up until one summer I have vague recollections of a bus trip to Brecon going boating on the river in the park with Sally from school. Sally lived with her parents in a pub in Dowlais, we caught the same bus home and one day on the bus she gave me a box of darts from the bar.
I was 14 when my brother went for his driving test, he said that if he passed he'd pick me up from school. At 4 o'clock I walked up the drive and out through the gates, there he was and he's been there for me ever since.
I started going around town in my mid teens with Blair Evans & Byron Jones, we'd go to the cinema, down to the new Caedraw flats to play in the lifts and generally hang around, this is how I met Susan James, so important later on in the Loco, & her best friend waiting for their bus home outside the market hall to go down the valley. There used to be a huge, impressive market hall which was closed down during the war and used thereafter to house the fire engines & ambulances, they knocked it down to make place for town centre redevelopment with a new precinct and bus station; at the time all the buses stopped around it as the town's terminus, I'd bump into Paul Lewis a good friend from school; Gerald Rees who later was to work with me at Ebbw Vale; and Jackie Webber who went swimming in the top pond, got his legs tangled in the reeds and drowned, not before a 12 year old Peter (Mogsy) Morgan jumped in, in a brave but futile attempt to save him, the last time I saw Peter he was President of Merthyr Rugby Club and landlord of 'The Wyndham Arms' supposedly one of the hardest pubs in Britain. I remember being offered a violet sweet by Jean Beynon, future wife of future friend Malcolm Llewelyn outside the town hall and once or twice we'd call into Adam's café, next to Adam's Beach the local dance hall which in another life had been the Palace Cinema then the Palace Ballroom and afterwards Sands, but we weren't dressed to join in with the trendsetters, Like the iron works before me I wasn't being invested in, I had the one pair of grey terylene school trousers, shoes the one of which had a hole in the upper front, they may have been plastic, a jacket with no inside pockets, and my father still cutting my hair the way generations before me had it cut, plus the fact that I didn't get pocket money as was the case with all my friends, when I wanted to go to the pictures I'd get half a crown, my friends shared their cigarettes with me, yet my mother's favourite expression was "everyone's telling me Im spoiling you rotten" that to her being the highest compliment anyone could give, not that anyone could know, no one visited us, they were relying on her word; she also thought that to be fat was an outward sign of being well brought up, proof of being well fed. I'd been going around the town centre since my early teens so it was strange when all of a sudden youngsters who'd never previously left their streets began appearing at the café with new nick names to fit the era such as Ringo and Deano (Deano was a singer from Cardiff). I took up smoking, mainly menthol but quite often cigarillos, a sort of part cigarette part cigar, it was a habit that thankfully didn't succeed in drawing me in (deliberate pun) to its iniquitous clutches for a long enough time to take over my senses,I stopped after about a year so didn't suffer the pangs.
It was somewhere around this time that I took to helping Peter Mendez sell his Football Echos on his regular stand outside the Theatre Royal cinema on a saturday night, one night my mother came past taking my gran down to the pub for a drink, I distinctly heard her tell my gran to ignore me, I thought it must be a joke but it wasn't. My mother was cleaner there for a while occasionally allowing me free entry.
I wandered around the town centre with the Trevethick St. boys one saturday night after the pictures when we encountered a gang from Georgetown, my friends ran off and I was beaten up, twice, returning to my gran's by myself with a black eye and bruises everywhere.
Cousin Denise married Ronnie Muscles, I've mislaid a good photo taken at the bar of the reception at the Dowlais Labour Club with the big boys: Maldwyn; Alan Beynon; Elwyn (The Bouncer) Morgan; Ronnie & me; Ronnie wasn't very domesticated, in their first house near the Penydarren Inn on the High St. at the top of Trevethick St. he put up the wallpaper with tacks or drawing pins and worked on his motorbike in the front room, this is where I met 'Smithy' who played against Cyfarthfa in the final of the Keir Hardie Shield football final for Queens Rd., who became son-in-law to Ron the barman where I later worked at Rhydycar and whom I bumped into regularly on my visits to Paris for the rugby internationals; I was always following them around their houses; one day I was leaving Ronnie Senior and Adeline's house in the Mush, Gellifaelog, and it was cold or wet or both and Ronnie Jr. gave me his leather jacket to wear home and his set of chest expanders to train, that was a proud moment for a 14 year old because Ronnie was the leader of the pack, and I looked up to him for his strength and speed.
Ronnie Muscles Junior & Ronnie Muscles Senior were cleaning out Mrs Parry's house down the road from Auntie Cassie and putting everything into a removal lorry, I joined in; when the work was over they went to the Brewers Arms next to the Bont to quench their thirst after all the hard work, and they took me with them. I'd only ever drunk the odd shandy before this or a Babycham at Christmas, this time it was pints of the best, and I got drunk for the first time in my life. They took me back to their house up the hill next to Gellifaelog school, where Neil ap Siencyn (Jenkins) taught, they called my father, and Ronnie's cousin Pat helped him catch me under the shoulders to revive me and get me walking up and down the street, history was made.
When Denise was pregnant in hospital waiting for her first child I used to be at her parents house playing society card games such as Newmarket with her mother & father (Auntie Cassie & Uncle Elfyn), Lilian Watkins who Denise had always called auntie & Alan Beynon whom I knew from school and who was going out with Lilian's daughter Diane. Alan's family the Beynons were highly respected in Merthyr and he was a good scholar & sportsman although a little bit of a rebel, his uncle, Philip's father, headmaster of Pantglas Juniors, died in the Aberfan disaster sheltering children in an unsuccessful attempt to save them from the inundation; one day Tom Jones a maths teacher confiscated his lighter so Alan presented him with a receipt; he became famous in school for his head butting abilities, practising regularly on his back gate and the school toilet doors.
Auntie Cassie had a friend from around the corner, née Parry who'd married a builder & decorator and gone to live in Chalfont St. Peters, Bucks, they had a daughter Linda who every year visited Denise, for some reason one day Denise wasn't about, so Auntie Cassie arranged for me to take her to the Castle Cinema, I thought there were things expected of me so I paid for an upstairs ticket and part way through the film I put my arms around her; I didn't know what to do or say, we watched the film, or perhaps two, I took her home and that was it.
I became friends with Alan Pembridge and his lovely wife Wendy Miller, who I remembered as the best looking girl in Penydarren Juniors, going up to their house at least once a week watching the new BBC 2 in colour, until the sad moment there was a fatal car crash with Eric Williams driving and his front passenger Marlene Morgan allright, but Alan & Wendy in the back killed outright.
In school Antos began a little betting firm, we'd read the names of the runners & riders at breakfast then put a little bet on in the cloakroom, there was hardly any money involved, on my part anyway but it gave me a little bug and got me to go into the betting offices, followed by watching the races through the window of the local television rental premises, it didn't last long, I've never really been into gambling although I played roulette 3 times; at the 'Four Sevens' in Maesteg, a club in Cardiff and on Whiteladies Rd. in Bristol; I've also played blackjack a few times, then there was the time after stop tap in the loco when we'd go to Tony's flat on Queens Rd. and play 3 card brag till the sun came up; Oh, and there was the time when we ran a coach trip to Wembley for a rugby league cup final, I played brag all the way up and all the way back, after a week-end in London I arrived back in Merthyr with more money than I had before starting out.
I never really joined in or felt part of anything in school which wasn't my initial aim, I wanted to be head boy reading the service in assembly, not to be; I wasn't in a team, didn't take part in any extra-curricula activities, never met my class mates outside of school, except for Trevethick St., in short, I never moved on; although I didn't join in with things in school, in Trevethick Street we formed a football team, never joining a league but going around playing friendlies. At this time one of my best friends in the street David Roberts and his sister Carole who I fancied from afar because she was younger, moved to Caerffili/Caerphilly, he left me his stilts, I went down once or twice to visit them then lost touch.
Lynnette Chidgey in the Anchor one night told me that wherever she went on the bunking trail she would see 'Bun' daubed on walls ahead of her, this period of my life ended when on the first morning of my fourth year the acting headmaster Mr Havard Walters called out my name wishing to see me in his office after assembly, I went along, we had a chat, he pointed out that as I'd missed so much time wouldn't it be better for me to stay back a year to catch up on my studies, in our conversation he happened to mention that he'd read the dictionary, I told him that I had as well, I agreed to his proposition, left his office and went off to choose my classes; none of the teachers questioned me as I once again took up the thread of school life, joining in, albeit on a lower level than before; prefects from the fast track younger than myself were embarrassed to ask me to stay in line, so didnt, one of them was Ewan Park a schoolfriend who lived in the next street down so we went to the same junior school only he was a year younger, he was a link between the good and the bad, as were all who knew me in Penydarren primary, later moving away to the English south coast but coming home every Christmas with his new girlfriends; we'd meet in Tiffany's or/and I'd sign him in to the rugby club, I think it was a lot to do with knowing Iwan throughout the dark days that was a mainstay in making it easier for me to get back on track. I was making new friends, most of all Maxie Howerd who did the most to help me rebuild my self confidence and self esteem, I wouldn't expect a dog to follow & obey me my self-esteem had fallen so low and I had no morale or mental support from my parents, my mother was a putter downer when I needed a puller up-er and this is where Maxie came in, but also David 'Dai' James who showed me the ropes for my new start. I felt dispirited, not a 100% in the mood of things, feeling I'd let the school down as well as myself, when I was asked which school I went to I felt I didn't live up to the name, but I began rebonding, fitting back in as a proper Cyfarthfa pupil, I'd support my team at the saturday morning rugby matches, although I usually kept myself more or less to my self, still feeling slightly out of things, bit of an outsider, I went to one match up at the ICI field on a winter morning in tee-shirt & trousers, which apparently I was often so dressed that I gained a reputation for it, there was a match against Ferndale grammar, there were murmurs that one of their players was a bit special who had to be particularly watched, a few years later he was starring on the wing for the Lions in New Zealand, his name was John Bevan**, not only was he fast but he was bigger and stronger than the forwards; at another match against County school the opposing scrum halves were the already mentioned Peter (Pip) Lewis & Philip Thomas, 'Marx Merthyr' in my verses on 'Dyddiadur y Dyn Dwad;' I couldnt play because I suffered from water on the knee, and as I had never taken it up seriously there wasn't much point in having an operation. Meanwhile my situation wasn't helped when we were playing cricket in the yard I swung out at the ball releasing the bat at top speed into one of the gym's unbreakable windows breaking it, without waiting, with morale near zero I walked to the staff room admitting what I'd done, and with my history of non conformism, with my tail well between my legs I was scared stiff of what the consequences might be if they didn't believe me, but everything turned out alright. Funny thing, despite my actions I'm very much a conservative with a small c that's why it hit me so hard going as far off the rails as I did.
As a youngster I never had any ambitions such as wanting to be a fireman or somesuch, I just never contemplated leaving school at 15, even in the junior school the idea of becoming a labourer seemed out of the question; before our 'O' levels we were all asked what we wanted to be in our future lives so they could help plan it for us, I looked at my books and came up with radiographer or radiologist and never had reason to think more of it.
In my free time I'd join my friends in the school library where we played cribbage, but sometimes I'd go down the gym to watch the girls in action, particularly Babs Evans in her little blue shorts; this is where I met Maldwyn & Malcolm (Speedy) Evans's sister, danced with her in Tiffany's, then sadly lost touch, still think of her. I think I learned more from my encyclopaedias & dictionaries than I did at school, this the result of no continual flow in my education, firstly my mother leaving me in bed in the mornings because she didn't see the need for it as I was going to work in a factory at 15, then it was my bunking that shot a cannon ball throught the rest. I was never the brightest nor the quickest, tending to ponder, but I read, that is how when I was eight I was the only one in class who knew that a cygnet was a young swan and that I could spell anonymous, and when I was twelve I told my young history teacher that 'Doomsday' Book was not the correct spelling. I still ponder but can change gear when necessary in dialogue thanks to my having paid attention to faster thinkers in school, particularly Philip (Pip) Lewis. I had a mental block that prevented me from reading school text books, I would sit down for hours reading but I lacked the scholastic discipline to apply it to my studies, rarely if ever doing homework, even ironically spending time teaching myself in the reading rooms of the town library when I should have been in the classroom, but more than that I sensed at 15 that the mists were drawing in, that reading aside, without discipline & direction I was moving intellectually backwards, becoming thicker than I was at 11, I remember at 15 years of age my English teacher asking the class if they knew what a canon was, I replied "a church bloke"; incredibly after years of grammar school education I was heading backwards, that answer acted as a watershed, I opened my eyes to the reality that I was drifting, fortunately for me I had good friends to help pull me back, although for a moment I had a fright, in Welsh class I put my head to a book and disaster, I couldn't read anymore, that which had sustained me all my life had disappeared, although I never told anybody, something had gone wrong with my eyes, I was literally reading between the lines, the gaps were being sent to my brain instead of the print, I still don't know how or why it happened but thankfully it didn't last. I felt sidelined from pupils my own age and older who'd stayed on track, studied and played for the school teams because I felt I'd let them down, I was conscious that I'd broken the school ethos while they'd stuck at it, I felt like damaged stock, I didn't belong on the same shelf or in the same company, but for pupils younger than myself not knowing anything of my past, even some of the older ones, having rehabilitated myself the seam had been restitched, I'd become a regular member of the school community, putting my past behind me, some would say I'd become saintly, almost overcompensating, I was literally accused in the street of being too good a person, my past had been wiped out, I was back on my previously chosen track even if it wasn't steaming at full speed ahead and I may have misread some signals, they could think what they liked I was accepted as an equal by my peers in the borough's other schools, even being complimented by my nemesis, acting headmaster & senior Welsh teacher, Mr Havard Walters (strange that my life's first recollections included a brother Havard Walters). One day I was called to the new headmaster's room with another pupil, he must have read the records or been advised, so with these two boys standing in front of him, one of them with a saintly aspect about him he took the other to be Bernard Walters.
Philip Adams was a stable friend when I needed one, he used to live in the grounds of Guest Keen Sports & Social Club, where we played tennis together, later Philip, myself and two other pillars Selwyn Regan & Peter Griffiths met up every tuesday evening to play snooker inside the club, a beautiful edifice built as a memorial library to Josiah John Guest, M.P., iron master, founder of the Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds conglommerate, and who's wife Lady Charlotte Guest, with help, particularly from Carnhuanawc, Thomas Price from Cwmdu, Breconshire, leading cultural figure in Cymru/wales during the first half of the 19th century, translated the Mabinogion into English, we were watched over by a Mr Samuels?, an elderly gentleman who used to keep the tables up to standard.
I have vague memories of one time going to a school Christmas party, some of us calling into the Rose & Crown in the Quar, before walking to the school; and seeing Elaine Bracey's well lacquered beehive hair style on the way.
Godfrey Lewis and myself with one or two others got to crossing Cefn bridge into Brycheiniog/Brecknock to sneak a lunchtime pint, but all in all, I think anyone more than a year younger in school would only have positive memories of me, nearing the end I even took to supervising the younger pupils in games down the gym but I never made prefect and didn't take my A levels.
For a while I had a new nickname 'Rock'; given me I think by Philip (Pip) Lewis, it didn't stick, so I was surprised one night years later on hearing my being called it at the Brunswick pub in town, I turned around to see Philip Ellis, he'd been a transfer at the time who'd picked up on the new epithet. I found out recently that I had a reputation for wearing the minimum of clothing during the worst of weathers, perhaps that had a bearing on the new name, but when I finished school I was stronger than average, could take a solid blow to the stomach, pull myself up a rope without the use of my legs, lift more than my own weight above my head and could flex my biceps more than most adults, if I'd had a younger sports master perhaps things would have taken a different direction but there was no-one to help me realize my potential, neither mentally nor physically; I'd had the chance to be in a grammar school and wasted it; the classic school report 'could do better'. I'd failed myself in the hopes & aspirations I'd had as an 11 year old, never better than average in geography but I managed to pass my 'O' level, I expected to pass my English exam, which I did, based on my grammar, my writing always let me down; for some reason lost in the mists I took C.S.E. in Welsh & Maths, gaining grade 1 & 2 respectively; I didn't count the maths grade two because it was inferior to an 'O' level pass but others did; I missed out on my history exam because I listened to Godfrey Lewis when he told me that I was barred from taking it, only to be caught up with by Mrs Goodall asking where I'd been. There was a boy later in Ebbw Vale who used to brag about his C.S.E. passes but to me they didn't have any meaning, somehow having retained my grammar school mentality.
Just a little footnote to mention that a year or two before I left, an ex- military curate joined us as an R.E. teacher whose name was Mr Hinton from Treorchy, he was the father of my great friend to be, Rhobert ap Steffan (Castro).
I'd applied for a job at Merthyr town hall but having omitted to inform them about my maths result I wasn't accepted, they later found out about it and were willing to reconsider but thanks to Kelvin I'd already taken a job at Ebbw Vale. The way I had managed to turn things around my life was changing for the better even though I've never lost the psychological scars but managed to cover them up.
Later when I was only 20 and meeting up with people such as Dafydd Wigley I'd have difficulty listening to what they were saying, instead I'd be looking around thinking how privileged I was that they were even speaking to me, having the vestiges of an inferiority complex that is still with me.
Still at school I met Kelvin's cousin Lynne Davies, nothing came of it, but I took her to a New Year's Eve dance in Sands, walked her home, and every so often I'd go and see her at her parents' house just up the road in the Mush, all the time recording my innermost thoughts in a personal diary, I was 17 years old, in less than a year I'd officially become an adult, one day my mother surprised and astonished me by recounting my writings to the family, that was it, to my parents I was their child, I literally belonged to them, so long as I was under their roof they could do what they liked, if I said something was mine that they had bought for me, the reply was that they bought it so it was theirs. I wasn't too happy when they gave away my/their Arthur Mee encyclopaedias to cousin Marion's daughter Beth even though I may have reluctantly agreed. At a factory christmas party I waited with the other senior boys for my present but I got the wrong one because my father had given the organizers a younger age, with good intentions, so that I could continue going, it made me feel small and set me apart from my peers; he came home one day after his saturday afternoon bet with a brand new Beatles jacket, again with good intentions, he told me he could see the way I looked at my friend's jacket so thought I'd like one; the reason I looked at the other jacket was because I couldn't understand why he was still wearing one given that it was so out of date it was most probably sold as a bargain because of that, when I was about fourteen I got a puppy from Denise, there were two and Alan Beynon got the other, sadly before he had time to fully grow up he was run over in the street, one day not long later I walked into the house to see a little bundle on the floor, my father thinking that this little ball could replace my pet, no way, but there you are he didn't see the need to ask, thinking he could read my thoughts, always with good intentions, his heart was in the right place, preferring surprises for his children but missing the target; I'd always wanted a tent, so when I was offered one from Embassy tokens I accepted, even though the moments had been missed I felt I could say I had one, same thing almost with weights, I'd always been fascinated by expanders, barbells and dumbells, Ronnie gave me his chest expanders and I eventually bought barbells when I could afford them but years after they would have been useful. I couldn't relate or speak to my father, he had a tendency to take things the wrong way; one day I mentioned that Malcolm Evans went every year to the Channel Islands, meaning that I wouldn't like to go to the same place every year but before I could finish he accused me of being big headed thinking I was complaining that we didn't go there, when I joined the local rugby club my mother told me I was too big for my boots, unimaginable today; when a rugby shirt became too tight and I wanted it changed my father called me big headed, and they kept me in short trousers until some of my friends started to go out drinking, refusing to replace them because my mother knew a woman whose son was wearing them, my constant white school shirt was commented on, I was a white collar worker; I'd never been to a barber shop in my life, my father always cutting my hair, it was noticed in school and remarked upon; I was big headed to act my age, I think they always saw me 2 years younger, which reminds me of the duck headed life belt, the girl's swimsuit, the crash helmet with a peak to go behind my brother on his Vespa scooter and the blue duffle coat with red buttons; when I finally did get my long terylene trousers I had to wear them to the beach, to town on a saturday night and to school. I have a photo taken in Barry where I went with cousins Glyn & Dorothy and I'm wearing my school trousers, it meant that I couldn't join in with any rough play for fear of damaging them or go places dressed up. I wanted to grow up, difficult as it already was, and my parents were pulling me in the other direction. I was making it hard for myself, but on the other hand I was being humiliated and had no comeback, I was a child with no rights, to be laughed at, not to be taken seriously, certainly not to be consulted; when I was small my mother took me to the dentist's to fill a hole in my tooth, when I came out so had my tooth, I never got an explanation why they took away my favourite toy or why they demobilized my pedal car; I planted a potato to study it growing until, with good intentions, my parents pointed it out on my dinner plate; I just had to sit there, take it and not complain. Why couldn't my parents see, they weren't blind? I ask you, at the extreme a duck's head and unique swimsuit, less so the peaked helmet, duffle coat & school trousers, I wanted to be big, they were keeping me small in front of children my own age, I was lucky not to suffer from it, nobody taking the mickey; in company my mother would show me up by repeating some idiocy I'd come out with as a little child 10 years earlier. When I was 14 or 15 I'd be aiming for 17 but my parents would try holding me to 11 or 12, or that's how it felt; Merthyr was a hard town, in those days you had to be hard to live there or suffer, it was too heavy for me, I stopped speaking to my father for a while but it hurt when I crossed him in the street. There wasn't much humour in the house that I remember although there was a joke they both told me one night on coming home from the pub "we put a bet on a horse today and this is its name, 'Hoof Hearted'", just about the only vulgarity I could ever attach to them; my mother couldn't cook but her chips in lard were so good we had them every day except sunday when we had boiled potatoes; when cousins Dot & Glyn came on holidays they loved them, but I couldn't joke about it especially as my father lost his mother at an early age, nothing was to be said. If I laughed it would have been thought against them, if I spoke to my brother my mother would somehow mystically hear something against my father, we couldn't speak when the telly was on, which it was all the time, if I wanted something I was big headed, if I didn't want something I was ungrateful. I admit I contributed largely to my troubled teens, it didn't help that both parents had complexes they handed on to me, and my bunking and the court case gave me a double dose. "You'll understand when you are 21" was his favourite come back, pity it doesn't work for 25 year olds.I was told to be happy, told to put the Christmas decorations up. My father was still writing Christmas cards 'Phylis, Fred & children when we were into our twenties, I questioned him, I shouldn't have. My mother bought me a pair of shorts for school sports telling me that they were bought at the brand new sports shop in town to impress me, they weren't, which I found out when I took them back to change them. No respect, good intentions, no understanding; I didn't like the fact that I couldn't own anything, one day I came home to see my father repairing my shoes without understanding that they were mine and perhaps I didn't want them repaired, he saw it as his duty, they weren't bad parents. Denise asked me what it was like to stay in guest houses for our holidays, how was I to know when we slept in the back of the car or in a tent? I managed to be evasive, protecting my parents, there was no laughter safety valve, the wrong answer would have meant loss of face for my parents and it was doing my head in, so much so that my brain was reacting, creating my own valve, shutting down certain sensibilities, leading me to live mentally detached, going my own way although sharing the same house. Half my life of being afraid of having things taken the wrong way have given me an advanced radar system forewarning me of any approaching susceptibilities or complexes, by this instinct I can watch where I tread thereby avoiding any tricky situations. When I eventually moved to my own flat I asked not to see them for a while, having been smothered I needed to breathe freely, that meant reading & writing at all hours, bringing friends back after the pub/night club/restaurant and sharing my bed with the opposite sex; there were no bad feelings and they got me a washing machine & spin dryer. I can only imagine their reaction when I moved abroad at short notice having lived in the town all my life with no prospect of change.
My brother was attracted to organized groups whereas I floated free, as a young boy he was one of Baden-Powell's boys, later he joined the Air Force Cadets and the Civil Defence, after the Civil Defence dispanded he became a member of Morlais Mountain Rescue, but before that he was in Aberfan with them every day helping out mainly driving the trucks. My father destroyed his hopes of becoming a soldier and of owning a motorbike, with good intentions for his own good, in those days 21 was the age of majority, however he couldn't be put off, he never joined the army, becoming a maintenance electrician in Aberthaw & Carmarthen Bay power stations, but he is now a 64 year old biker.
Before I was of an age to go out drinking overtly in the town centre I'd go down my gran's on a saturday night, call for Georgie Quirk, for whom later I'd be best man at his wedding with Marilyn from Rhymni, and we'd furtively go up to Penydarren Park, although positioned centrally it was hidden from everything, at the time there was no modern clubhouse but an old shack that had a bar, the Rhys Tavern, later to be replaced by the Maldwyn Davies Jubilee Club re-baptized Strikers, it was frequented only by the most loyal fans, many of whom were getting on, and they used to put on erotic films, I also used to take my father's darts down to the Morlais on Pontmorlais every friday in its darts room separated from the bar by a hatch and entered from the outside, I remember Lilian Richard's sister working behind the bar and I found her very attractive older woman.
I called for Georgie to go with me to my brother's 21st birthday party my parents had organized in their local The Nelson, my first encounter with gherkins, or cornichons as I call them now; as we were walking down Trevethick St. cousin Marion came out of No 26, her family home, she had spotted me walking past and mentioned it to her mother Aunty Cassie who was in the front room ill in bed with cancer and had asked to see me, so I went in, a few months earlier she touched her side and had felt a pain, now it had come down to this, I hardly recognized her, she was like a shadow, had lost all her weight, her face was skeletal, very distressing, I listened to what she had to say, must have said something myself, then rejoined George on our way to the party. Later when she was in her coffin Uncle Elfyn asked me to go and look at her, I declined, he didn't take it well.
After school I got a summer job at Lines Brothers, Triang Toys with Johnnie Webber, Peter Churchill & a Doctor's son from Cefn; then Kelvin O' Neill, one of the boys, got me an interview at Ebbw Vale Steelworks with John Gaydon who employed me at the Central Engineering Offices, meeting up again with Gerald Rees, who was my lift to work for a while, my not having a driving licence, he & Evan Kinsey used to pick me up at the Norton bus stop below my parents' house in Penydarren, it was a 10 mile journey, the only time I ever found it necessary to travel to work so I needed someone reliable, and Gerald was not. Evan later explained to me that when he got it into his head, he would deliberately leave me there, so I got more reliable drivers in John James from Heolgerrig & Cled(wyn) Price from Dowlais Top who sang together in the Dowlais Choir and shared the duties. I also caught up with my schoolfriends: Philip Adams; Stewart Mcintyre & Godfrey Lewis who by this time was Brian, which makes it pretty unfair when years later he brought his college friends into the Anchor and on introducing them to me I asked them if they were all friends of Brian, they laughed, and he never spoke to me again, how was I to know?
It was at the works that I met Kevin Viney and Hedley McCarthy, not forgetting Roy Beynon our union rep amongst many others. John Gaydon was secretary of the town rugby Club high in the echelons of the sport in Wales, with Arthur Lewis becoming captain of the National team. Our big boss, the general manager, John Powell was on the Sports Council for Wales, a big rugby man, he'd often be seen down Central Engineering. Many of the players were employed at the works and Denzil Williams a record breaking forward was often to be seen in the office picking up or handing over items relative to the club, mostly, as far as I could see, raffle tickets; one day about twenty years later I found myself standing next to him in the Parc des Princes where I reminded him of it, he wasn't in a good mood because his ticket number hadn't guaranteed him a place. I had my own raffle tickets to take arround the offices, though they were really MTAFC bingo cards I got from Maldwyn Davies once a week on behalf of the football club, one year I was proud to sell a load of lottery tickets for Welsh National Opera but when I sent the money back I forgot to leave my name & address to inform them who had sold them. I got to know all the draughtsmen & engineers because I was a records clerk and part of my job was collating the number of personnel and their attendance records, there was an engineer by the name of Des Thomas who worked in the drawing office upstairs who lived a bit further down the hill than myself in Penydarren, one day he came downstairs into the office I shared with Ann the filing clerk, later replaced by Susan from the drawing office and the shorthand typists: Dilys; Margaret; Jenny; Cynthia; Andrea & Dorothy and rolled out a paper on my desk which turned out to be ambitious plans for a brand new Penydarren social club to complement the redevelopment that replaced the old Plantation St. area. The steelworks was huge and self sufficient, 3 miles long, 9000 employees with its own doctor's surgery, fire & ambulance service, hot mills at the bottom, cold mills at the top, from the furnaces to the rolling mills the strip mills and the General Offices, the acid would eat into the cars and burn the eyes. Knowing that I am from Merthyr Bob Roberts one of the engineers introduced me to the sculptor responsible for the metal monument at Merthyr shopping precinct, St. Tydfil's Square, whereupon he explained to me his rationale of why he had given it a broad base for industry narrowing at the top, a bit like a miniature Eiffel Tower; it's been moved to the bottom of town near the Loco pub and not far from the Lucy Thomas Memorial Fountain. Lucy Thomas was a mine owner who realized the potential of commercial coal, for up until that time it was only used on a large scale for the smelting of iron, it was mainly thanks to her initiative of selling directly to the London merchants that the Rhondda valleys were opened up making Cardiff the largest coal exporter in the world, equalling the gross tonnage of New York which was the world's largest port at the time, and making Welsh coal the requisite fuel for all that was steam driven. It was at Cardiff's coal exchange that the first million pound cheque was signed. There was a works canteen across a yard from the office past the fitting & fabrication shops, it was raining one day, I ran back, slipped on the marble step, slap bang into the corner of a solid oak door face first, I cut a near vertical line down my face splitting my lip wide open, I went to the doctor who straight away gave me stitches, when I went out that night for a pint in the Vulcan I sat with Mogsy who wanted to know about the fight; in a place like Merthyr, people are sceptical of walking or running into door stories. One time after getting home from work my brother was at home and my mother served what we called tea but was a substantial early evening meal, I noticed that my brother's meal was more substantial than my own, when I enquired why this was, my father retorted, "because he works, you don't"! I was astounded, he was a maintenance electrician who when there wasn't a job on, would watch television, but he wore overalls. I was a clerk in an office reading & writing all day returning home with migraine often falling asleep before going off to the pub; BUT I DIDN'T WORK!! While I was in Ebbw Vale a big disappointment was not getting the money from the insurance policy in my name that my mother had been paying into since I was a baby, normally these were to give a boost to an adolescent entering adult life, later when I was a man from the Pru(dential) it was my job to pay out these policies where the happiness was clear to see and I would always get a big tip; as in other things, my parents paid, ipso facto it was theirs.
My brother bought me a Thames van so I could learn to drive, I went around the Beacons with him at my side as a qualified driver; I took the Trevethick St. boys down to Porthcawl for a bank holiday, on the way back Chris screamed out when I missed a bend; it was my bachelor van, then one day my father spoke of putting seats in the back for family outings, I stubbornly stopped using it there & then; I wasn't to pass my test for another 10 years
Maxie could see that all wasn't right in my head so he invited me to the Loco where he had a regular weekend rendezvous with: Mike Jones (Meic Merthyr in Caerdydd); Gareth Davies; Kelvin O'Neill; Neil Quinlan; Stuart Pound; Peter the Lamb & Gary from the pet shop; Martin Carey; also Mike's cousin Malcolm and his school mate Wyn Richards who went on to become a champion bowler and 'ENGLISH!!! international. One year, 1971 I think, we spent a summer holiday together in a Guest House by the sea in Blackpool, the Landlord and Landlady baked (or bought) me a cake for my birthday, Mike and I took advantage of the proximity and hitched to Lancaster to see my Aunty Mary, Dot's mother and Gareth's grandmother, we met Pam Jones and her friend from St. Dials Est. Cwmbran in the house next door, and I also met a girl from Northern Ireland by the name of Elisabeth Shepherd. Before going there I ordered a made to measure suit in Burton's Merthyr to be delivered, when it arrived I opened the packet, tried it on, they could have measured a prize bull it didn't fit.
Wyn was the person who initiated me into the rugby internationals, we'd arrange to meet in the Salutation, Cardiff and wait for his college friends to arrive, and I initiated Maxie; Wyn went to college in Portsmouth, one weekend in August I visited him at the flat he shared with his girlfriend Marion, she never liked his friends' influence on him, anyway I celebrated my birthday at an all night beach party on Hayling's Island, it was magnificent.
I spent the best days of my late teens in the Loco, Susan James was the daughter of the house, Esme & Bill her parents kept the place. Susan had her loyal group of friends with whom we intermingled, listened to Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, played cards till sunrise in Tony's flat on the bottom of Twyn with Shelagh McDonald, her dark haired friend and boys from down the valley, there was a test of strength whereby we had to grab a chair leg at its base then lift it off the floor, sounds easy, but only Bill the landlord; a brickie friend of Susan; and myself were able to do it. Susan was a good looking girl always wearing a mini skirt and when we sat at a table near the stairs it was difficult not to raise the head when she climbed them. Incidentally, in Barry college she was the best friend to the wife of Stewart who came with us to Brittany 10 years later. Susan's lot and myself went to the Bath Festival, only instead of going from the pub I got picked up 'en route' near Newport after being stuck in the wind & rain on the side of the motorway, everyone was squashed in the back of a Ford Transit, I remember going to a pub in Shepton Mallet with Shelagh & her friend, and drinking bottles of Whitbread Forest Brown.
A few of us decided to go to the Gower via Llanelli for the fun of it; we cadged a lift, arriving there about 10pm, went playing 10 pin bowling in the Glen ballroom until closing time before finding a place to sleep on the way, I found a not too uncomfortable bench for the night. The following morning we made our way to Gorseinon, then Gowerton before Llangennith & Rhosili Bay, stopped for a drink high up overlooking the bay before walking over the cliffs to Port Eynon where we met some County School boys who had a caravan there; we drank and played bar skittles in the Ship Inn. The following day we headed home, later the Gower was often on an after midnight itinerary when we'd get some boys & girls together, hire a mini bus and go to Mumbles for a bit of communal nude bathing after stop tap.
Peter Lewis took me to the Lamb between hours and introduced me to his father John the landlord and his sister Cheryl, but it was Maxie who took me there drinking, where I was introduced to the patriotic element: Harri Webb; Ivor Davies, who was to become my mentor within the party; Ronnie the Brigadier; Neil the Colonel and Cayo Evans after they heard me arguing with him about Owain Glyndwr. Rugby wasn't a popular game in Merthyr but the Lamb had its own saturday morning team with real characters, one of the biggest being Jimmy Limerick, there was Sid Hill who was later to take rugby to Dowlais with a different ethos to Merthyr which rightly or wrongly was seen to be of a higher social level, I had the honour of being shown around a nascent Dowlais Rugby Club by Syd in a room of the Bruce Hotel; when Jimmy was fooling around you'd know he'd gone too far when you'd see Syd quietly take off his glasses and slip them into his jacket top pocket, then he'd know it was time to shut up. The Lamb was gaining fame all over South Wales for its clientele which wasn't going down well with the ruling Labour Party, they made excuses to knock it down, and so we had another nail knocked in to the social life of Merthyr, they said it was for redevelopment but it was never replaced, then the hotel opposite was bought by one of its main opponents and he crassly baptized a new Lamb Bar.
Six or seven times I've been horse or pony riding, never learning how to do it properly, as a child on Barry Island beach expecting to be thrown off, 3 times pony trecking at Talybont on Usk when the Trevethick St. boys met with the Troedyrhiw boys, they'd go galloping leaving me behind to quietly canter along, the last time was when I met up with Ivor, my mentor, who met me in town where I was wearing a suit & tie on a sunny summer's day, he invited me to the Mynydd Du to a farm above Llangadog where the farmer on being asked brought out two ponies, I was unprepared being badly dressed for this type of activity so it was no surprise that on stretching my legs to bestride my mount I heard and felt my trousers ripping apart; we did however go for a ride to Llyn y Fan Fach, the source of the legend of the lady of the lake & the physicians of Myddfai.
The Imp was where it all came together, where I spent the best years of my early twenties, but it must have been my teens as well because I used to finish up there on a saturday night to go up the road dancing in Sands, before I was 21 I was dancing in Tiffanys which came later. Sands used to hire the local 'hard nuts' to keep control, one night as we were queuing outside, a not very bright person came out declaring that he was the 8th hardest boy in Merthyr to which Degaz grabbed hold of him beat him up on the spot and walked off. another time 'the leader of the pack' Ronnie Muscles was in there when a rumour went around that there were strangers there from Swansea, Ronnie got a punch in the face that knocked him on the floor, I saw a huge grin forming and I knew he was going to enjoy the next few moments. I was chatting and drinking with Shelagh McDonald and her dark haired friend near the stage when two boys from Ebbw Vale started larking about, one of them pushed past me, so I felt that I had to save face, prove myself and show off to the girls, I grabbed hold of this boy who was bigger than myself, hammered into him, punching non-stop until he fell, his friend kept his distance then picked him up and helped him leave, I cut my finger on a glass and still have the scar. It was at the Imp that I met Susan McCarthy; Cynthia McDonald, unrecognizable to me as my former class mate; Valma, & Diane Galea; it somehow became my base and many is the time that I stayed behind being taught politics by mine host 'Skip'. Ewart (Skip) ? was Plaid Cymru Bargoed that's how I got to meet Cherry, that and the fact that it was the unofficial headquarters during the Emrys/Ted by-election, there were people/workers patronizing the place from all over Cymru/Wales; I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
There used to be trips down to Top Rank Caerdydd/Cardiff organized by the Spina Bifida charity to which we used to go, but as they weren't often I began running my own, to Top Rank, Cardiff, Top Rank Abertawe/Swansea and to Mecca, Bristol. I can picture Diane Parle in the aisle singing 'we're all going to Cardiff on a Morlais bus'. At one time in Top Rank I was dancing with Valmai when the compere asked anyone with a hole in a sock to go up on the stage, not being very sophisticated I found a hole, when in fact every boy there had two; another example was in a restaurant in Swansea, we ordered steak & chips, the waitress asked how we wanted them, Georgie Quirk looked up at her bewildered and replied "on a plate". On a trip to Bristol we called in to a nightclub on Whiteladies Road with strippers and a game of roulette, I played and got worried when I started losing although I had the bus money giving me an extra reserve as I was the trip organizer, fortunately for me I came out on top and a good night was had by all at the ballroom, only for me to wander off and get lost; luckily at about 3 o'clock in the morning, in the middle of Bristol, the coach rolling slowly along with everyone on the lookout eventually came across me nonchalantly walking down the road, picked me up and drove us all home.
There must have been an overlap between the Loco & the Imp, but in my memories they rest distinctive; in between we drank in the Vulcan, nothing to say for it except that it was very popular, it became my wednesday night stop where I'd drink with Jimmy Rees and Clive Ellis, we were young, the beer was rubbish. Merthyr High Street is about two miles long, and arriving at the age of 17 or 18 there was: The Penydarren End; The Nelson; The Owain Glyndwr; The Morlais; The Imp (Tiger); Ye Olde Express; The Anchor; The Vulcan; The Brunswick; The Belle Vue; Narrow Gauge; Red Cow; The Lamb; The Kings; The Great Western; The Eagle; The Swan; The Crown; The Ex-Servicemans; The Loco; a normal saturday, and that was after some of the pubs on Castle Street had been knocked down. 'Ye Olde Expresse' before it was refurbished by the brewery was a cider pub that sold scrumpy from a barrel on the bar, scrumpy tended to do things to its imbibers leaving a mark which in turn left an anti-social odour on its regular drinkers and surrounds as anyone walking in on an evening and taking a whiff of the place could discern.
On tuesday nights we'd go dancing down the Merthyr Labour Club, famous throughout Britain as the night when some local housewives could be encountered without their wedding rings, it got around through the long distance lorry drivers' grapevine. The night would always come to an end with 'The Last Waltz?' sung by a friend of Lyn (Owen Money) Mittell the home grown radio celebrity.
I was a town boy brought up on rock & roll, there was nothing I liked better than going dancing; Adam's Beach/Sands was no more, the catholic hall was intermittent as was my coach trips to Cardiff/Swansea/Bristol, but right in the centre of town in the new precinct was Tiffany's; we had to queue up, no hair over the collar and compulsory tie, but when I got inside, I went straight for the dance floor, took my tie off, undid my shirt buttons and danced to Suzie Quatro, Slade, T-Rex, Sweet etc., I perspired and some other dancers would stop to watch me. I went there on weekends and most wednesdays. After dancing for hours, if I managed to meet a girl it meant walking for miles afterwards to accompany her home; it meant walking to Gellideg; Troedyrhiw, Penywern, Pant & Penydarren that I remember. There was a girl I often took home to Courtland Tce. but that was just across the road.
Other great friends at this time were Dai Goode & Bryn Williams, Dai lived behind me in Urban St., married Claire and moved to Council St., once, I managed to get a typewriter from the works through the engineers and lent it him, I suppose he's still got it, we used to go to the Imp and dances in the Catholic Hall, very often they were rugby club dances, in that case I'd get tickets from Philip Corke, at other times they'd be Plaid Cymru fund raisers that sometimes I organized myself and Skip from the Imp would run the bar; at one dance I noticed someone getting aggressive towards Dai, I pulled him away and wrestled him to the floor, I found out later that he was a bouncer at the 'Queen of Hearts,' Nelson. Bryn was from Galon Uchaf and used to drive around town in a souped up orange car with Cibie publicity, later he was a bouncer in Tiffany's, his great friend was Bobby Craze from Heolgerrig who sent away for a Bullworker, but sent it back, he was big enough and strong enough already.
After a night out I used to like to sit down to write the thoughts and ideas I'd been formulating throughout the day, a few beers were good for agitating my brain, although I didn't often get the chance, my mother would hear me coming in, give me a few moments then come down to switch off the light, so a few masterpieces of prose & poetry have possibly been lost to posterity; my mother didn't get up when I arrived home one night after an evening at the pub and things turned frighteningly awry, little did I know that I wouldn't be going to bed for a while yet; I was at the back of the house between the toilet and the bathroom, next to the back door at the kitchen sink when a fire started, I tried putting it out but there was paraffin involved, so water only raised the flames, it became intense, there were wires and gas pipes everywhere; I didn't panic although I could see myself dying in the flames, I stopped it spreading, contained it, I wasn't going to let my parents be killed in their sleep, I didn't move until it was out, then I went to bed. The following morning my father was the first up and wanted to know why the ceilings were black; I told him he'd had nothing to worry about, that there'd been a small fire and that I'd put it out before going to sleep; I didn't tell him that I'd started it. I had probably saved my parents' lives but I didn't want a fuss made of it (for obvious reasons).
In 1970 there was a lot of excitement going on in the town, the Labour M.P. S.O. Davies had been thrown out because of his age, well into his 80s, but no known date of birth, he had represented the town since 1934, and was Mayor in 1945, so this did not go down well withe the populace. The 'Party' chose a leading Trades Union leader, Alderman Tal Lloyd, who'd got us our 1st house and father of my friend Kerry, it was seen as a sad moment and a sure thing for the Alderman. The intrepid S.O. stood as an independent, won nearly 17,000 votes, Tal Lloyd; 9,234, E. Jones, Con; 3,169, and Chris Rees, Plaid Cymru, 3,076; it was my first vote, and it went to Chris. I was fortunate enough to have been present at the result inside the town hall, everyone was ecstatic and I was amongst the first to hear the result, I was 18.
Two years later S.O. was dead, leading to a by-election where there was even more excitement with American style cavalcades. Emrys Roberts, on the left wing republican side of the party, which for years had been at odds with Gwynfor Evans the Party President, had arrived as the Plaid Cymru candidate on the back of close results in the Rhondda and Caerphilly. The Labour Party, shaken by what was going on around them chose an outsider, a very young Edward (Ted) Rowlands), already a junior minister, who had just lost his seat in Cardiff North; both he and his wife Janice were Welsh speakers who supported and practised the language. For weeks there was a carnival atmosphere, and on the day it was : Ted Rowlands, 15,562; Emrys Roberts, 11,852; with the Conservative, Communist, and Liberal way behind.
After everything had calmed down Maxie & myself went off hitch hiking for two weeks around Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany, landing at Oostende, we stayed in youth hostels and we would go off thumbing individually, but before separating we'd get out the map and arrange to meet at a bridge, a railway station or other important building/landmark further along the road. Our first stop was in Ghent where there was a town festival going on, I bought a sandwich with a whole cold fish, head and all, and directly put it down a drain; I ate at an Italian restaurant in Antwerpen/Anvers, then through Eindhoven, Hertogenbosch & Nijmegen to Arnhem where I took a look around the cemetery, carried on to the bus station in Utrecht. I was in a bar in Amsterdam and happened to be watching the television when the news came on that terrorists were attacking the Munich Olympics, it was Sept. 5 1972. I caught a lift across the Ijsselmeer which when I was small I knew as the Zuider Zee, it stuck in a child's mind, the name changed when the sea became a lake, the flow being curtailed by the Afsluidijk which I was driving over with the engineer or project manager responsible for the reclamation and who was pointing out the polders to me on my way to Sneek. Not all of the Netherlands is Holland, in fact only two out of twelve parts, We were on our way to Friesland before traversing Gröningen en route for Germany. Over the border we crossed through Oldenburg to get to Bremen where we stayed overlooking the Weser. At Hamburg we caught the Uberbahn to Saint Pauli station and the next youth hostel, we descended the steps to enter St. Pauli, famously known by its other more familiar name of the Reeperbahn, with streets that were forbidden to under 18s, having a girl in every window plying her trade. After a couple of days looking around Hamburg we headed back through Osnabruck making our way again to the ferry at Oostende passing by Brugge/Bruges.
When I returned home I seemed to gradually drift away from my old friends except for Maxie, Meic & Gareth but developed a never ending host of new ones, This is where Smallville ended and Metropolis began and I became a sort of disciple to Emrys Roberts, a hero to a new generation of Merthyr voters in a newly shaken up and re-organized constituency Plaid Cymru which was to launch the political career of Dafydd Wigley, and to a lesser extent Gareth Foster, local curate and nephew to the famous Oxford scholar and antiquarian Idris Foster, & Bleddyn Hancock (Nacods), and lead to the Party taking control of the Town Hall a few years later.
I was brought up Merthyr-centric, everything turned around it or was relative to it, gradually my horizons broadened to encompass the greater country abroad; up till then my Cymru/Wales extended to Abertawe/Swansea; Aberhonddu/Brecon; and Casnewydd/Newport, plus Merthyr Welsh cup matches, Merthyr play in the English pyramid system, they had at temporary moments been joined by Penybont-ar-Ogwr/Bridgend & Llanelli. As a non driver it wasn't easy to circulate, sometimes I'd hitch hike, sometimes I'd go on a pre-arranged coach or arrange one myself, and other times I'd be driven by someone else who was also going. There was usually a fixed time table so that the year could be planned in advance, as in the National Eisteddfod; Eisteddfod yr Urdd; Plaid annual conference; Plaid summer school; Cymdeithas Easter school; Cilmeri; there were intermittent rallies and demonstrations usually attache to the importance an disrespect shown to one of, if not the oldest currently spoken national languages in Europe, and then there were my Welsh lessons at Llangrannog Urdd camp. My favourite place within reach of Merthyr was Carreg Cennen Castle taking in a quick visit to the Red Lion in Llanymddyfri to have a beer in the traditional way from the barrel and to listen to the local choir on stage 2, the wet session of their weekly practice. I travelled all over the country mostly going to the west, probably because there's more of it, more roads and more to see, although it doesn't have the grandeur of the north. I went a few times to a bar/restaurant near the village of Eglwyswrw by the name of 'The Salutation,' partly for the food & drink, partly for the atmosphere with its low beams and the sign 'Duck or Grouse.' I went all around the country becoming familiar with most of the towns except for those on the Dee estuary. I'd go to dances at Caerfyrddin, Llangadog and the James family memorial hall in Pontrhydfendigaid.
I was brought up Labour; Red Flag, Red Dragon; but the Dragon in the sixties had disappeared from Merthyr it had become an anti Welsh microcosm; we knew where not to tread, until Ted turned up, and later Bill Morgan, Bill broke the local labour party caucus becoming leader of the council, he was ambitious and on the Parliamentary lists, one day Neil Kinnock came to town to give a speech at the Miners' Hall, Gareth & Linda Foster and myself were there in protest, Bill turned up late, saw us standing there and asked if Neil had arrived, wrong choice, Linda sent him off in the wrong direction, I think she regretted it almost straight away. Control was in the hands of: the McNamaras, the Mahoneys, the Donovans, the Reddys, and right on the top were our own Albert John & Tal Lloyd; any mention of Cymru/Wales was anathema to them; I went through three Trades Unions; help your fellow man, solidarity to the working class, so long as it follows Moscow's rule and the workers aren't too Welsh, nowhere at any time in either local politics or local Trades Unionism was Wales ever mentioned, except by the ousted MP many years previously causing him 3 times to be ostracised by his party, he was the last of a long line of Independents including R.C. Wallhead going back to Keir Hardie to whom Cymru/Wales meant something, before he eventually lost the plot and was finally asked to stand down.The local authority was very anti Welsh but it wasn't just the councillors and their lackeys, the director of education was a man by the name of John Beale, I can see his scowl now, later he went to West Glamorgan so I can't imagine how he could hold sway over there, there used to be confrontations between himself and Dafydd Wigley over Welsh language education when Dafydd was still a councillor in Merthyr, later he used to stonewall Emrys Roberts after Dafydd & Elinor had moved away.
The patriotic element mentioned above had become a constant in my life in relation to which I set up a Penydarren Branch of Plaid Cymru and became its first secretary with Richard Hicks as my right hand man, I used to hold my meetings in the Dowlais Labour Club; until Emrys turned up Plaid members were seen as cranks or at the least outsiders, I sent to Cardiff for a list of members in my area and was happy to see the name of my old primary school teacher, Anita James; I was also constituency membership & social secretary, delegate to the Pwyllgor Talaith and national delegate to the conference, recruiting members, organizing meetings, dances and knocking doors; one of the few active Trades Unionists in the party. I was still twenty one years old in 1973 when I stood for Mid-Glamorgan County Council against Terry Mahoney, the future Chair(man) of the Authority, on my leaflets was written 'Bernard Walters, B.S.C.' referring to my work place 'British Steel Corporation' it wasn't meant to mislead people into thinking that I was a Bachelor of Science, but anyway I came second out of three with a respectable 800 votes, the third candidate being Gerard Kiley the journalist; around this time I met Peter Davies, a big Labour activist, but it was more to do with his working in the bus station with my friend Neil Quinlan.
I think it was 1973 that the Conference was held in Rhyl; Mici Plwm, and Hywel Gwynfryn dressed all in white were running a disco for us on the pier, I was staying in a hotel across the road where I met a Scottish maid, after I'd got back home I was out one night drinking, with this girl on my mind, so after stop tap, I went home, got a coat and started walking up the hill in Dowlais towards the Heads of the Valleys road with the intention of hitch hiking overnight to Rhyl through Abergavenny and Leominster, it wasn't easy and when I got there she didn't show much interest. I didn't have a driving license so I used to do a lot of hitch hiking particularly overnight to the rugby internationals, one day I was waving a big Red Dragon flag on the way to Scotland but drivers were signaling to me that Wales was the other way. I must be fair to Ivor Davies, he took me to many places in his Audi and would never allow me to contribute to the petrol, because, as he said, he was going there anyway.
In 1972 or '73 I held a Plaid banner at the head of a rally in Newtown, at the end of which we retired to a local hotel where I was drinking at the bar when I heard 2 distinctive voices coming from the entrance, when I looked across I perceived 2 distinctive characters to go with the voices, the one being Monsignore John Owen, and the other, someone who was to become one of my greatest friends, Mr. Gareth ap Siôn, originally from Pontypridd but for many years since, Caerdydd/Cardiff. Gareth's a real character, a former Welsh junior chess champion who once stood for the Blaid in Caerdydd. One time we were all in Merthyr celebrating the historic gain of Merthyr Council by Plaid Cymru, we were outside, it was raining and Gareth decided to go for a pee, unfortunately he was seen by a couple of police officers, as they were putting him in the car Gareth shouted out " you can't arrest me, we've taken over", it fell on deaf ears and he spent a very pleasant sheltered night in the new cells followed by a well served cooked breakfast, in the meantime we had all gone home except for Hywel Williams from Pwllheli who'd come to Merthyr to assist Emrys Roberts, he'd sat outside on a bench all night in the rain in solidarity. I remember he had part of a finger missing. I've a sneaking suspicion he's now an MP.
At loose end moments I'd go down to Siop y Triban in Wyndham Arcade, Caerdydd, Peter Meazey was the proprietor and a 17 year old Siwsan George from Treherbet was working there, as was Gwynneth Rixon; Pete & Siwsan, together with Stewart Brown, a Scot, went on to form Welsh folk group, Mabsant; or I'd go down to the Plaid offices on Cathedral Road to see if I could give them a hand. Dafydd (Dai Banjo) Williams was the General Secretary, there was an elderly lady called Nan who'd been there for a very long time, Robert Griffiths was doing research, Gwerfyl Arthur was secretary, Les Davies from Aberdare was there helped by Marie? the wife of the first headmaster of Rhydfelen, & Meinir, a pretty girl from Ynys Môn who appeared on the cover of 'Pais' a Welsh womens magazine.; a likely job was to telephone a press release of a speech that was to be released imminently to radio & television. I was local organizer, or cysylltwr for Cymdeithas yr Iaith having taken over from Meic Merthyr Jones, It was he who organized the Easter school in Aberfan, must have been in 1973 because Glynis Williams from Treorchy/Treorci, Helen Greenwood, Gwenith & Marion took time off to help me canvass in Penydarren where I was standing for Council. We had a game of football on Aberfan Fields, I played in goals and shouldered off an opposition forward by the name of Ffred Ffrancis.
I was hampered not having a telephone until my brother got one for the family, but it was worse not having a driving licence, I was an active person so I had to rely oo much on my brother, my friends and hitch hiking to get around, fortunately there were regular bus & train services. When Glynis arranged a meeting in Treorc'hy I had to catch a bus to Aberdare, there was a direct road over the mountain through Penyrheolgerrig but had fallen into disuse so we took the Swansea road over the crest of the hill turning left into Llwydcoed, changing to the Rhondda bus going high up the mountain passing by Guto Nyth Bran's church at Llanwonno, down through the Rhondda Fach and up and over again coming down into Treorc'hy. The Rhondda isn't a town like Aberdare or Merthyr, or even Dowlais, but two valleys, the main one, the Rhondda Fawr being one long string of little townships & villages about 12 or 13 miles/20km long beginning above Pontypridd and leading to a cul-de-sac with a high climbing mountain road taking us over the Rhigos mountain to join the road to Glyn Nêdd/Glynneath, Castell Nêdd/Neath & Abertawe/Swansea.
I became local organiser for Cymdeithas yr Iaith, flyposting at the bus shelters, member of Cofiwn commemorating the killing of Llywelyn ein Llyw Ola' at Cilmeri every year and organizing Sefydliad Cymru so that interested parties could learn Cymraeg/Welsh in a non academic informal atmosphere. Because of my Language activities I used to meet Welsh teachers who moving in from outside used to share flats; the first lot were opposite the General Hospital in Garth Villas and included Ann Jones & Eldred Evans, the second lot moved in to the new precinct and these were Ann Preston from Blaenau Ffestiniog, Eleri and friends; after Tiffanys opened and after a hard night's dancing, because of their proximity and my sense of friendship and feeling of warmth towards them, I used to wake them up by occasionally calling there after 1 o'clock in the morning, I later found out in the painful way Eleri introduced me to her boyfriend Meilyr Owen, who was a striker for Bangor City, at a social evening in the 6 Bells Heolgerrig that it was never appreciated and that the friendship was hardly mutual, I believed we were friends so it hit me hard, I moved away to sit by myself not speaking to anyone, although later on I met her at an Eisteddfod where she approached me, I couldn't respond and walked away due to the hurt I felt; the third bunch included Llinos Davies also from Blaenau Ffestiniog and Mair from Pontrobert.
A person who was to become one of my greatest friends is Rhobert ap Steffan, I met him in the London Welsh Rugby Club on the day of an International with Marilyn who's also a Walters, I think we are cousins; we were introduced by my mentor Ivor Davies from Dowlais, later on Rhobert, or Castro as we all know him taught in Merthyr before moving down to the other 'Moel Siabod' in Llangadog. During the mid 70s he taught art at Bishop Hedley Catholic Comprehensive in Merthyr and one year he invited me to the school Christmas party which was a big event in the main hall; on the day, I walked in, everybody was seated at tables. I espied old friend Chris Jones with his wife & parents so I went across to say hello, Castro who was with the other teachers called me over, I am not a catholic so some people must have been surprised to see me spending the evening sitting on the stage keeping the teachers company, although in saying that I had been a county & district council candidate for the area and had already participated in a function for Cafod, the Catholic worldwide charity sitting next to its President, Keiron Moore the former film star. (Sadly since I began writing this Rhobert has passed on after a frighteningly quick onset of cancer of the liver & pancreas, this after a long walk over the Andes in Argentina raising money for charity, he died two months before I was to meet him in Brittany).
Ivor's brother Maldwyn owned the Theatre Royal Bingo Hall and ran Merthyr Tydfil AFC where I was a regular spectator. I was a member of Ebbw Vale & Merthyr rugby clubs, giving me the right to have my name in two hats for the international match ticket draw, but saturday afternoons invariably saw me at Penydarren Park; grammar school education pulled me towards rugby but my heart was up the Park. I wasn't the only one, there was a boy from school by the name of Melvin Jehu, I like to think he looked up to me from the days I supervised the younger boys down the gym; he had joined the police force and told me excitedly about a new flying task force to be able to go anywhere quickly, prepared for emergencies, getting there in Ford Transits, and he'd applied to join. I suppose now we'd call it a riot squad. we lost touch, then I heard he'd become Chief Superintendent in Abertawe/Swansea. One boy was soccer mad in school and used to get his classmates to go down the Pandy Field to play football, a bit against the school grain, but it worked out for him, his name is Gordon Davies***, he played for Merthyr before eventually being transferred to the old First Division with Fulham, Man. City & Chelsea (the third Chelsea connexion) and playing for Cymru/Wales. There was Keiron Stratton who had a sister Philomena, one night I met her in the Norton on Penydarren High Street, at closing time we headed off to Cardiff in the rain, she in bare feet, we got to the bottom of town before turning back. I met up again with Keith Lewis, a friend fom infants school, then a policeman whose father was one of the mainstays of the club, definitely not 'fair weather'; My friend Gareth Davies was a regular, and I became friendly with the Merthyr Express sports reporter Philip Howells, before he became editor. One day there was an F.A. Cup match against Llanelli away; Philip spoke to an old man who remembered the epic matches between the two sides in the halcyon days of yore; as I once went with Al Tal & the boys to watch Llanelli v London Welsh, Ray Gravell and Keith Hughes facing each other in the centre fighting for their place in the Welsh team, I am perhaps one of the few non-Llanelli inhabitants who has been to both Stebonheath and the hallowed Stradey Park. I was shown around the brand new Maldwyn Davies Jubilee Club built on the grounds, weeks before it was open to the members and general public. Maldwyn the owner introduced me to the legendary John Charles the manager and we chatted and drank together, later I took Ioan Roberts, a journalist with 'Y Cymro' to see him, his wife is a multiple Eisteddfod laureate for her singing, he once introduced me to Huw Jones the singer & record producer at a hotel in Bangor, I think during the Eisteddfod yr Urdd at Porthaethwy.
I had a movement I called 'Mudiant Adloniant Merthyr', within which Malcolm Llewelyn, my brother Mal and myself ran a mobile 'Welsh' disco, ' Disco'r Dewin', for hire at social functions, we had a big one in Caerdydd/Cardiff, I think it was at an R.A.F.A. club. I organized a concert in Aberfan with 'Mynediad am Ddim', where a woman begged me to get Emyr Wyn's autograph for her little one, which I did, took it back from the changing/dressing room, gave it to the child and he read disappointedly: " To Byn...., I met Ryan Davies at another concert at Aberfan, where he explained to me the origins of 'Ar Hyd Y Nos'. At a Max Boyce concert I organized in Aberfan, I ran the raffle where there was a slight confusion over the winning ticket, he complimented me on the way I handled a delicate situation. I can vaguely remember booking Dafydd Iwan but I'm not sure. It got to the situation that Welsh groups were beginning to come on to me to book them at Merthyr.
Whilst all this activism and social life was going on I lost my job in Ebbw Vale, John Gaydon had been promoted to be replaced by Bill Bartlett, John used to let us get on with it under the supervision of Roy Beynon office manager but Bill used to stand behind me looking over my shoulder, his way of running things, I think he was one of these types that being aware of their own inadequacies looked for it in others, he depressed me, I took time off sick, they transferred me depressing me even more, I took more time off sick which co-incided with the elections and they sacked me.
I went on the dole for the first time before joining Moss Gears to become a semi-skilled machine operater/turner working side by side with David Meredith's father, the factory male camaraderie/solidarity was radically different from the typists' gossiping. During this time we worked the 3 day week under Edward Heath's Government. Leslie Quirk had a birthday party down in the Nelson, I was invited, making it difficult to get to work on the night shift; I got up to the factory late, climbed over the high back railings and quickly got to my machine before the foreman noticed I was missing, the factory solidarity being as it was, one of my new mates had clocked me in even though it could have meant instant dismissal. I organized a weekly football tote in the factory to raise money for my local Penydarren branch of Plaid Cymru.
When I frequented the Metropolis our haunt was the New Ely until the landlord got fed up with Welsh speakers taking up his valuable space, we collectively moved on to the Rhymney near the prison where the racist prisoners used to shout at Ap Siôn to go back home to Pakistan, this apparently had more to do with the price of soap than to his blood origins, although he was and is a prodigious curry eater, the hotter the better; his blood brother in curry eating was Castro, they order the hottest in the restaurant, and when it is served ask the waiter to take it back to the kitchen for an extra dose of spices. I remember one day on the way to the Rhymney after a match Gareth gave a huge swing at Castro, missed by a mile, then stormed off. We got into the bar, I went to the toilet and came out to see them both drinking together at the table. The New Ely was where I met Hervé Kerrain, "the mad Breton" in the Dyddiadur y Dyn Dwad. Hervé was called up to the French army, but was one of a number of Bretons who don't consider themselves French, so Gareth persuaded him to go with them to Cymru/Wales, where he was lacking in resources "I 'ave no monet" but was treated like a king by Ap Siôn, Al Tal and others. I once found him wandering alone on Merthyr High St. and took him to my parents' house to sleep, the following morning my mother offered him a flannel & soap to get the pieces of breakfast out of his beard, he declined the offer, it was the first time for my mother to meet a foreigner! The official papers caught up with him then he went to Ireland and lived like a tramp, I found it ironic that a girl sang an Irish song at his funeral, anyway the French used to have a system whereby at the election of a new President there would be a general amnesty, so at the election of Chirac I think it was, Hervé went home only to be put into prison as it didn't count for him, not having already been incarcerated. The New Ely was also the pub where I met Jean-Louis Nano who told me of his project to open up a pub in the Breton hills. On the odd occasion when I missed the last train home I used to stay at Ian Perriman's house in Alfred St. off Claude Rd. in Y Rhath/Roath which his aunt had left him, it was large enough for him to rent out the bedrooms, and I used to doss down there, whilst upstairs Dafydd Huws was writing the 'Dyddiadur y Dyn Dwad', recounting the exploits of a band of friends, all of whom were born elsewhere, even if it was only from Ponty or the Rhondda just up the road, although many of the characters were immigrants from the Gogledd, as was the author himself. It was later made into a film where ap Siôn was an extra watching an actor playing his role; Dafydd also had a regular spot writing in 'Y Faner' under the pen name 'Charles' Huws. The Claude was the sunday morning haunt. Other watering holes at the time were mainly across town; the Conway, Half Way or the Robin Hood, and on a saturday night we were likely to end up at the Blue Moon or Pappagio's down the docks. The only time I was actually at the docks on the waters edge I was with Meic Merthyr, we were taken there by Pete Meazey before going back to his house, where I was dumbfounded by his choice of teas, having grown up in Merthyr where my gran drank Typhoo, my neighbours, Hornimans, and we, P.G. Tips. Ap Siôn & Perriman took me to Barry for a game of golf, I've often played crazy golf at the seaside and i've played pitch & putt, I've a keen eye, good at darts & snooker and a very good putter, I have good co-ordination but I couldn't get the golf club to hit the ball, it coming from behind and not between eye and object, this was an added dimension that I couldn't overcome. These are the boys that I went with or more usually met up with at any events thought worthwhile. In those days Cymru/Wales was short on festivals so that meant making the most of what we had, outside the eisteddfodau it meant rugby internationals, usually celebrating, rarely commiserating like today, in the pub after the match, or it meant going to the summer tournaments such as the Bridgend sevens. The Pontardawe music festival began as I moved away to Llydaw/Brittany a country rich in festivals, every weekend nearly, the larger ones for days on end every week in the summer.
This rhyming social commentary of which I wrote, and dare test your patience relates to 'Dyddiadur Y Dyn Dwad' printed in the mid-seventies.
Goronwy Jones he wrote a book
An epic in its way,
The life and times of Cardiff Welsh
This book it did portray.
Goronwy Jones (our Dafydd Huws)
From the land of Gogs he came,
And strayed into the Ely
To the boys of 'steddfod fame.
He wrote about these boozers
For people all to read,
The chapels didn't like it
But Goronwy took no heed.
The chapels didn't like the way
They lived their life of joy,
But gambling, girls and beer
Mean a lot to a healthy boy.
Who was it they wonder
Who stirred up such a row,
Who else but the boys of the Ely
Drunk on their Bulmers 'Bow*.
There was ap Siôn and Perryman
or Connolly and Penniman,
Dai Hopcyn or Dai Corduoroy
Dai Shop or Shep, one hell of a boy.
Denver too of Cross Hands fame
Stan Crossroads now is his new name,
Marx Merthyr also, he was there
but print his name I wouldn't dare.
Now, when everything is said and done
One question needs an answer,
I've read the book from front to back
But who the hell's Greselda?
*Poetic licence; they drank Brains 'dark.'
I went for an interview to Coleg Harlech, Alan Williams (Al Tal), now of Pontardawe, took me up there in his little Robin Reliant 3 wheeler, amongst other things I was asked about Alexander Cordell's writings, which was fortunate having read all his historical novels, notably 'The Rape of the Fair Country' & 'Song of the Earth'. After the meeting I was told by Sulwyn ?(definitely began with an 's') that it had gone well, but as they had no proof of my staying power, to go home, sign up for some night studies and return the following year. On my return to Merthyr I began studying: English; French & Social Studies at the local College of Further Education; for some reason I didn't stay the course and have forgotten why.
I became a 'Man from the Pru' meeing up again with Gareth Davies, they gave me a book full of names & addresses and a daily round collecting the policy payments house to house street by street, we were also expected to expand our clientele, it wasn't easy with out a car and it didn't work out. Whilst I was working there Gareth Foster had introduced me to Philip Goodwin and a Man called Eddie both from Pontypridd; Eddie was an insurance salesman who'd set up his own autonomous branch company of the 'Target' unit trust group, he asked me to join him because of my Prudential experience and knowhow, as he saw it, but I wasn't ready to leave, when my situation altered I went to see him and he employed me. It turned out badly, bit of scandal with police involvement, leading to Target taking over our office directly but without Eddie, then we in turn set ourselves up as self employed brokers working with the big names on a commission only basis; I wasn't making any money so I left. Philip was imminently organizing a concert in Pontypridd and was looking for musicians, I got him to book Neli, Catherine, friend of Heather Jones,'s group, he worked for Oxfam and got me to raise money in Merthyr on a voluntary basis. Earlier there was a party at Eddie's place in Pontypridd, Philip was there, so was Gareth Meils, secretary of UCAC the Welsh teachers' union, I got into a discussion about the value to the Welsh of Henry VIII's Laws in Wales Act, which we generally refer to by the misnomer 'Act of Union' with a fellow ex-Cyfarthfa pupil, Alun Morgan, a then history teacher in Bridgend.
With few exceptions, my friendships built up and cultivated over the years through school, the streets & the pubs had been displaced, moved aside, our common interests had in some cases seismically shifted, altered the focus, lessened the conversation, although you don't lose your friends, you only lose touch, there was now a new bunch in my life, my natural instincts, my early thoughts and my later philosophies were coming together towards a more 'Welsh' as against 'valley' way of life centred around the: Eisteddfod Genedlaethol; Eisteddfod yr Urdd; Cymdeithas yr Iaith; Sefydliad Cymru; Plaid Cymru & Cilmeri, more of an awareness of Cymru/Wales's distinctive history, language & literature and almost complete anonymity on the world stage, nothing to compare with our closest cousins, the Irish & Scots, the only National intellectual forum being an institution fabricated by 18th & 19th century romantics, namely the Eisteddfod, and a futile, toothless 'Grand Committee in London not really worth mentioning. The way I saw it was that our fate unfortunately lay in the hands of the English labour movement with its ambitious, if not out and out sycophantic Welsh members whose main interest was getting out, selfishly improving themselves, denying the existence of Wales, lining their own pockets, and bringing up their children to become English gentlemen, as the Tudors had done before them but using workers' solidarity as an excuse to deny their roots, outrageous to the extent that the bigger the Parliamentary majority, the less that got done. Every valley has its apocryphal tale, sometimes the same for different members; "our MP only ever asked one question, could you shut the window please, there's a draught in here," or that they drove to South Wales from London in a Rolls Royce wearing their best clothes, then they'd change into an old jacket & trousers with 'Dai cap' & scarf to catch a train up the valley, depending on who's telling the tale, from Newport to the western valleys of Monmouthshire as was, or from Cardiff up to Merthyr, Aberdare, Rhondda or Bridgend. That people actually believed these stories tells us a lot about how they were perceived. There's no smoke without fire and if there is some truth in story 2 empathising with the miners, they needn't have bothered, their majorities were guaranteed. Aneurin Bevan, great as he was, didn't see Welsh problems, only problems, thereby sewing the seeds for 3 decades of wanting, windbag wasters in the valleys, caricatures for our neighbours across the Severn to ignore unless an opinion is needed on match day. Where does it end, no Welsh children only children? Russian children don't go to the eisteddfod, education has to be tailored, this was the fifties, short sighted homogeneity, everybody speaking one language and singing one anthem, no room for diversity; that time is past, it's ridiculous and an excuse to think in English, sorry, British terms, which in the long run is the same thing, if you deny your own you choose the other; there has to be a starting point and mine is Wales, then if the Welsh miners want to help the Durham miners all's well & good, but don't use solidarity as an excuse, otherwise in times of unrest they'd be picketing St. Etienne, Lille & the Ruhr. My heroes include Owain Glyndwr, and Arthur of the primitive sagas, I believe that autonomy is strength, that overstretching leads to weakness. Solidarity is strength when every facet of it is equal. "Nid cadarn ond brodyrdde", "Unity is strength" Unity means as one, but neither Scotland nor Wales is as one with England. "All for one, and one for all". but there is a lack of concentricity. The Scandinavian countries are free and equal, the Baltic Countries are free and equal, the British Countries are not. Welsh MPs are free to jump on the gravy train. The smallest Country in Scandinavia, Norway, has a population of 4,346,000; The smallest Country in the Baltic, Estonia, has a population of 1,459,000; Gibraltar is just over half the size of Merthyr, Greenland has as many people.
The proud valleys of the Rhondda,
The renown of Merthyr Town,
They put their trust in what they had,
But the smell of power let them down
One hundred years of Labour
A boon to the working man
to climb the social ladder
as high and as far as he can
No longer to live in the valley,
when London makes its call
get out, get on, get up there,
go and have a ball
Pretend to be a socialist
so long as you are there
of course your real reason
is to become a millionaire
No more the council house for you
No more the valley floor
Buy a property in London
Or three or four or more
But I'm real Welsh he says
Valley born & bred
Just listen to my accent
It won't go to my head
Ask me my opinion
on anything in Wales
I'm a fan of Cardiff City
And can tell you rugby tales
Dont ask about the Senedd
For us it's just not right
I think it's great for Scotland mind
For them the future's bright
Wild Wales it's been a struggle
It's been a long, long road
Two thousand years of fighting
An historic path bestrode.
Roman, Saxon, Viking, Norman,
They tried to bar our way
but it was our inner strength
that helped us to hold sway
The enemy without took rout
but what about within
A famous couple you may know
Who knock and knock and make a din.
Though that was in the days gone by,
before the referendum.
When the tide of change flowed down the docks
Next to our other millennium.
Westminster governs us less & less,
No longer the houses in London to buy
Cardiff is serving its purpose at last
It's Taffside not Thameside the place to fly.
Cardiff rules only to a certain extent
But laws are being passed here at last,
Nearly a thousand years we've waited for this,
A government here at the present, no longer a dream of the past.
So Carwyn you are now at the helm
Show us just what you can do
Can we trust you to bring us the bread
And perhaps some jam & butter too.
Cymru/Wales is relying on you.
Robert Griffiths wrote a biography of S. O. Davies that brought him up to the Miners' Hall for a lecture, when it was over we went back to the Anchor for a drink, where at the table he introduced me to Hywel Francis, future MP and son of miners' leader Dai.
During the 1974 Eisteddfod at Caerfyrddin something was going on at the Half Way tavern in Nantcaredig which induced my friends and me to go, I'm glad I did because I had the honour to meet and swap a few words with arguably the greatest name in Welsh rugby, a certain Mr. Carwyn James. The Half Way was run by my friend Hywel Williams, but I didn't know that nor him at the time. I went to see the Dowlais Male Choir who'd come first at Rhuthun the previous year, till then it hadn't been their policy to enter; it's close to my heart being just up the road with good friends of mine participating, they only came third if I remember rightly. I also saw the first performance of a rock opera in Welsh, that of 'Nia Ben Aur' sitting next to Dai 'Banjo' Williams the Plaid Cymru General Secretary at the time.
In 1975 I was supposed to meet Marc Kerrain in Merthyr on our way to the Cricieth Eisteddfod, but because he was late we went on, leaving Meic behind to welcome him at his parents' house in Penyrheol(gerrig), we all met up again outside the Brynkir Arms, sometime later Breton musicians were playing in the garden and I was drinking, sitting with my back to the window next to Vaughan Roderick using a copy of the 'Welsh Nation' to explain the finer points of how to précis interviews in written journalism. Castro (Rhobert ap Steffan) and his mates were making waves in a pub across the road, something about who was or wasn't circumcized. I've heard from Ap Siôn since that this is where he met Marilyn his wife, Marc's elder brother was the famous 'I 'ave no Monet' mad Breton of Dafydd (Goronwy) Jones's 'Dyddiadur y Dyn Dwad'.
In the Aberteifi/Cardigan Eisteddfod in 1976, Harri Webb wrote for me:*
"There was a young fellow called Bun
Who thought the Eisteddfod was fun,
In Cardigan town he was drinking it down
'Cos Plaid Cymru in Merthyr had won",
"Bryn Watkins is feeling annoyed
And sad is the face of Tal Lloyd;
All the old gang are going to hang
'cos their racket has now been destroyed".
* referring to the council elections earlier on in the year when the Labour Party lost control to Plaid Cymru in an historic takeover.
'The Pretender' Emrys Roberts came riding into Merthyr Tydfil on his white charger to nearly upset all the odds, he'd been ostracised from Plaid Cymru but was back at full gallop, a brilliant speaker, perhaps it was too much to take the town from Labour at first attempt but he stayed on winning himself a place on the council for Plymouth ward with a house in Troedyrhiw, the momentum was with him so much so that he built up a table of white knights and with his immaculate Galahads they took control of the council, they had unknowingly been infiltrated by a fifth columnist, a staunch Penydarren Labour Party family member had joined the Party uniquely to stand for election, won, got nominated to the housing committee and voted himself a house, thereby losing the Party all semblance of the moral high ground that got them into power, and to be honest he wasn't the only unfortunate councillor, their talent base not being as broad as they would have liked in their scent of victory. To be fair to Plaid Cymru the Labour Party had been overstretched for years, as long s they had their chairs of committees it didn’t matter to them that some of their councillors fell short of what one should expect. Before Emrys galvanized Plaid, Labour were elected unopposed in most areas, and even if they weren’t the saying was you could put a sheep up for Labour it would get elected. There were a few communist stalwarts, prominent amongst them the ever popular Arthur Jones who was regularly elected in the Park ward where there were an unusual 6 seats, his equally popular wife was the public face of the Merthyr Express behind her desk at the entrance to its offices in Glebeland St., I was in school with their son David. There’s a story that did the rounds, of a meeting of the parks committee discussing putting a gondola on Cyfarthfa lake when one councillor interjected, “why not put two and breed them;” one Labour mayor claimed that he was proud to be the Queen’s representative in the borough. Democracy doesn't always rely on the vote either, a high proportion of the town hall staff were party members, possibly how they got their jobs in the first place, and as loyal members are wont to do, boxes of votes would come in late on election night with marginal areas becoming safe overnight, or at the count the opposition scrutineers would catch the counters putting 99 opposition voting slips on top of each other terminating with 1 Labour = 100 Labour. There was a coup of sorts; one of the most principled councillors was the Independent Megan Phillips of Cyfarthfa Ward from Penyrheolgerrig, the older people calling it 'Penrhiwl' and the younger 'Helgerrig' she fought actively for her constituents and had left the Labour Party in frustration, Emrys thought he could turn this to our advantage and persuaded her to join us on our crusade; she was a 'girlfriend' to another highly principled person my 'Union' boss on the council, Idris Dee from Penyard, she spoke first language Welsh as was normal on all the Merthyr fringe areas untill the bungalow estates began sprouting up everywhere diluting the culture, ironically she was against positive action to save the language saying that she didn't believe in it being rammed down peoples' throats.There was a close result in the Park Ward between two Plaid candidates, the one conceded, the other magnanimous in his gratitude stated that his ascension to public office wouldn't change him; a nurse, he soon afterwards found the tables turned as a ward patient, on one occasion he asked to see the doctor, with the nurse replying that the doctor concerned was busy, his reaction was: "TELL HIM COUNCILLOR ******** WANTS TO SEE HIM", not what one would expect, with the result that Plaid has fallen in popularity approximately to the state it was in during the 60s. At the national conference Emrys told a story about Ivor my mentor that didn't show him in a good light, claiming at the same time that Peter Jones was the architect of the victory, but I can tell him that Ivor and myself were working hard knocking doors trying to win people over for Peter's election in Dowlais whilst Peter himself was posting leaflets in Emrys's Plymouth Ward. One day Peter suggested to me that the red on the Union Flag represented the blood of the Welsh. For a while he brought out a news sheet to which I contributed stories from the past in Welsh.
A brave man who from the nature of things must have been very thick skinned, standing alone as he did for many years, defending what was a minority point of view, was the amiable Dave James from Penydarren, manager of Hodges clothes shop opposite the library on Merthyr High St., he stood as an independent ratepayer, but we all know what that meant, it was the only way for a Conservative to be elected in the valleys, it didn’t have the same stigma attached, so if one was liked & respected, as he obviously was it made it easier for the conscience to give him your vote, so long as the two others went to Labour, who often were not liked and respected, but had to be voted for, it was a back door entrance to the town hall; Derek Showers incidentally mentioned earlier on married one of his daughters.
A little story I can't resist involved the magmanimous councillor at the conference; there was a debate going on and it was his turn to address the audience, the previous speaker stepped down leaving a place for him to present his motion, he walked down the aisle, made his way to the podium, looked up at everybody, gave his co-ordinates followed by "I have nothing to add to that" then stepped down and walked back to his place.
Emrys was the object of a typical bit of Welsh humour; a while earlier he had gotten into a fight and had half an ear bitten off with the result that it earned him the epithet 'Emrys 18 months', a year and a half.(Welsh pronunciation applies)
At the Aberteifi Eisteddfod I'd been invited to sleep at the village baker's in Pencae, Llanarth by Gwawr whom I'd met at Llangrannog and who was to leave us far too early whilst studying for exams at Bangor, she & Siân Tesni, daughter of the house decided to go on a peaceful protest to which I was invited to sit in the back of the van, Siân's sister Heulwen Thomas asked to come with us but it was decided she was too young, we drove around the winding country roads, stopping every now and then for a few minutes before carrying on; by the morning there were many more signs painted green in the Sir Aberteifi/Cardiganshire countryside, another episode in Dafydd Iwan's "Peintio'r Byd yn Gwyrdd". In order to get back to the Eisteddfod Aled Eurig picked us up in his car, he also took me down to Neil Jenkins's house in Talgarreg, but perhaps I'm overlapping the Eisteddfod in Aberteifi & the Ysgol Basg Cymdeithas in Ffôstrasol.. There was a concert organized by Cymdeithas yr Iaith starring Edward H. Davies, I couldn't get in because it was full, however I met a friend, Hefin Tomos, who got me in on security; we were told by Wynfford James to watch out for overexcited girls coming storming screaming down to the stage approaching the end of the Edward H. concert. Being from the valleys and never having heard of them, I took this with a pinch of salt, but fair enough there they were, running to the stage, where I and my fellow security men got together grasping hands forming a human chain barring the way, preventing the hysterical girls rushing up on to the stage, unbelievable.
During one Conference I was sitting there enjoying myself in the hotel singing 'Flower of Scotland' with a band of young scots in traditional costume, dirk included, before it became officially accepted as the National Anthem, when the barman declared the bar closed. Dafydd Wigley gave me his key number so that I could stay on till the early hours, when on trying to leave, everything was locked. I eventually left by the front window, accidently cracking a pane on the way. I enjoyed the social side of the Conference binding the year's work, making good friends including Phil & Dorothy Richards from the Cynon Valley, bringing together the workers from disparate areas. Another year everything was booked up but Dafydd (Banjo) Williams, found me a room where I was sharing the house at the far end of the front with Pryderi & his Pigs.
Little anecdote concerning Dafydd Wigley & Merthyr: Dafydd was head of finance at Hoovers and also a county councillor, there was a civic reception for Felix Mansager the big boss from across the pond, Hoovers was Merthyr's biggest employer so Dafydd was the obvious choice to make the introductions, Felix approached the mayor, Dafydd turned to him and said "Felix, I'd like to introduce you to the mayor of Merthyr, Alderman Charles Bungalow", what a public faux pas, he'd always heard the mayor called Charlie Bungalow, but he wasn't to know that it was a piece of Merthyr humour signifying that he had nothing upstairs.
One day Cherry & myself wanted to go to a one day conference in Llandridod Wells, neither of us had a driving licence so we managed to get a lift off Dr. Phil Williams & his passenger Owen John Thomas; Phil was a close friend & colleague to Cherry's father Les Lewis in the Cwm Rhymni Plaid, a highly respected member in Bargoed who gave his name to our Les cards for calculating support at the polls.
I got a job in the Castle Hotel as a handyman but it didn't last long because I patronized the hotel bars in the evenings which was frowned upon, so a friend of mine named Ron Williams, whom I'd got to know through his studies of Welsh history, that, combined with my politics got us chatting in the Vulcan, invited me to help him on a costermongers round he'd established in the Cynon, Rhymni & Tâf valleys; as it was unofficial, at the end of the day there was no money involved, but he'd give me some fruit & veg for giving him a hand, he went on to ambitiously open a delicatessen in Merthyr before its time, the locals weren't ready for it, I think he had one regular customer, the new landlord of the Vulcan, and it failed; then he came to me for a testimonial or job reference for the new Peacock's store as an under manager and he got it, the job and the testimonial.
At around this time I received a note from Margaret Roberts, Emrys's wife, informing me that Joseph Parry's old place of worship, Bethesda Chapel, was being saved (ironic pun) and they needed volunteers to clean it all out for restoration as a community centre, I was only too happy to help out, later on John Barnard Jenkins found a job there as a counsellor and I'd pop down from Brecon Rd. at lunch times to have a chat, it was only a couple of hundred yards, others there became colleagues on the works council, the constituency wide trades Unions forum, which was mainly a medium of influence for the local Communist Party.
Margaret & Emrys lived at 5, Brynhyfryd Villas, one day I was there with Cherry, I was about 21 when I couldn't help wondering what Margaret was doing putting long thin sticks into boiling water in a saucepan, and when she told me it took me a bit aback, she said she was cooking spaghetti, considering that I'd been eating it all my life I found it hard to believe that there was another way of preparing it other than getting it out of a tin can, this, the sommelier, and cheese & wine parties, I was becoming sophisticated.
During the late 60s & early 70s there was a musical renaissance going on in Ireland, Cymru/Wales & Breizh/Brittany; many people would have heard of; The Chieftains, The Bothy Band, Planxty and Christy Moore; in Cymru there were the Hennesseys, Triban, Y Diliau, Mynediad am Ddim, Y Trwynau Coch, Sidan etc., etc. mainly of them friends getting together in college and disbanding on leaving; in Brittany there was a cultural phenomonen whom Margaret Roberts told me about named Alan Stivell, she told me that he was coming to the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff and had to go to see him, he'd already played at Dublin and his finale was to lead the crowds out of the theatre and around the streets with his pipe in the style of the Pied Piper of Hamelin; I shouldn't go ahead of myself but two of my future brothers-in-law played with him and he is a godfather to one of my nieces, but that's another story.
I was having a quiet drink in Merthyr Rugby Club when someone introduced me to the foreman of a subsidized work scheme on the college site, he asked me if I could paint, didn't wait for an answer, the following morning I got myself a job as a painter on Mid-Glam Council at the college extension with a 6 month contract never having lifted a paint brush in my life, two months later the man who had employed me got the sack whilst I carried on painting till the end of the contract, when we finished in Merthyr, the foreman from Bridgend drove me to Aberdare, on the way over he'd ask me technical questions involving painting that I was unable to answer so I had to use my experience to evade the issue. When my 6 months was over I joined Merthyr Council at Brecon Road yard. Every morning we would all turn up, stand in the yard, and depending who was or wasn't at work we would be designated our respective tradesmen; I worked on the roofs with a tiler; I was a fitter's mate with my friend John Price from Dowlais who had a cabaret act 'Soft touch', that, storeman and night watchman were my best jobs; the most frustrating was as brickie's mate in the Gurnos where every day we'd be building the same wall which was pushed down every night. I was also shop steward so when I was needed in the manager's office for discussions the foreman would put his head out of the window and shout out into the yard 'Plaid' which was me, a fly in a Labour bee-hive, at the end of every month I'd get a small envelope containing a bonus to my regular wage. Sometime during my time in Brecon Rd. we hired a coach as part of a Trades Union demonstration in London, most probably at Hyde Park, there were thousands taking part; after it was over I drifted away from my colleagues chatting to two girls from Liverpool, I missed the bus back, caught a train from Paddington to Cardiff and Cardiff to Merthyr, on my explaining what had happened I wasn't asked to pay.
Sitting in the lounge of the castle hotel one night I got chatting to an american, Merthyr wasn't on the tourist map at the time so I was intrigued, we spoke about politics & history, a few weeks later I got a letter in the post from the USA with a clipping of an article from the New York Times mentioning his meeting with a young Welsh Nationalist but not by name, other people were mentioned who worked in the town hall, so I took the clipping to Selwyn Jones the town clerk who made copies for them, but I needn't have bothered because the author'd made a point of sending a copy to everyone mentioned.
After a while I moved to the Dowlais yard as storeman to replace Elwyn Beynon who was on long term sick; the men would come in to pick up what they needed to clean up the town, sign the book and leave, from then on until the end of the working day I'd answer the phone and intermittently fill the lorries and JCBs with diesel, blue for one and red for another, saturday mornings I'd be paid time & a half for basically opening and closing the door once, waiting for midday, locking up before walking to my parents' house across the 'Bont' football pitch, the only one in the borough ungrassed, being composed of ash & industrial waste that could cut you up on falling onto it. Then the unexpected happened and the storeman came back from the sick, especially after his cousin & school friend Alan Beynon, whose sister Jean I've already mentioned married my old friend Malcolm Llewelyn, told me in the Castle Hotel one night that he wouldn't be back and that I had a job for life, they put me on the ash lorries, nothing funny about going around the Gurnos Estate, one of if not the biggest in Europe, at 5 miles an hour lifting full rain sodden zinc ash cans from every house up to the shoulders and into the back of the lorry; Another day they gave me a brush & shovel and sent me with another worker to clean out an under pass, his reaction when we got there was that now no-one was watching we could take it easy. I had a spray to get rid of the graffiti in the town centre and a brush to sweep the streets. Whilst based at Dowlais I was also employed as a nightwatchman on a building site, a toilet attendant and Merthy Town Hall temporary replacement caretaker when the caretaker went on the sick for a while (fell ill), I was responsible for keeping the coal fires burning in the town hall and the rates office. Their special one bonus day off a year was coming up on the date there was a Cymdeithas yr Iaith Easter school somewhere in West Wales, I think it was Pontarddulais, anyway I took it upon myself to organize a trip to Abertawe/Swansea, left everybody outside a pub in the city centre and caught the train, at the end of the night a Cymdeithas member, trainee solicitor by the name of Alison John got me back as the pubs were closing just in time to catch the coach home.
I used to run a lot of trips, Vaughan knowing this called me to organize one to Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen for the celebration of 10 years since Gwynfor got elected to Parliament in 1966, that famous night when Welsh history was rethreaded, or put back on the rails, there were two sisters on that coach, daughters of a famous current affairs producer who still haven't paid.
On that subject I organized a dance in Merthyr with the new Welsh super group 'Injaroc', comprising amongst others: Caryl Parry Evans; Endaf Emlyn & Cleif Harpwood or Prendelyn; at midday we went for a curry in Hal Al's that was a bit greasy, wrong time of day. I had to change halls, there were two in the centre, because not enough people in Merthyr could understand the reason for rock music through the medium of Welsh, but in the smaller hall the atmosphere was all I could have hoped for, with a mention later on in 'Y Cymro' that it counted amongst their best gigs, unfortunately not enough money was collected to fully pay the group. At times I used to run trips to Glansevin mediaeval banquets where Meinir Lloyd would be the resident harpiste, I've forgotten the name of her singing friend who went to a 'Welsh' school in the Gwendraeth Valley, it may have been Rhian, whom I met later in the Top Rank ballroom Caerdydd for a rugby international, scarred as a result of a car accident. Quite by chance I have just uncovered an old vinyl disc, signed: Meinir Lloyd; Eleri Llwyd; Karen; and Rhian Pont. I have since met Meinir & Peter Hughes- Griffiths in Lesneven but wasn't recognized. At other times Gareth Westacott would telephone me with the dates of dances at Coleg y Drindod, Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen to which I'd organize a coach, and every now and again we'd go to dances at the James family memorial Hall in Pontrhydfendigaid. There was a small excursion I ran with a few Cymdeithas members going down to meet John Dixon & his girl Kath for a beach party at Lavernock.
It was while I was at Dowlais that I got up the courage to move out of the nest and rent a room with shared toilet facilities & shower at Garth Villas opposite the General Hospital and around the corner from Trevethick St. the place where I was more or less brought up; I was very fortunate in that you'd be surprised what people throw out, my new friends on the lorries putting aside that which they thought might be handy, thereby helping me to partly furnish my new abode.
Because of my involvement in Merthyr politics I often used to get into discussions with local characters, one such being Eddie Thomas, the boxing champion & trainer of boxing champions, I used to love listening to his tales of his younger days and stories of the old town; one day we were standing at the bar of the Castle Hotel, when he told me he was going into the restaurant to eat with a crowd of friends including the Chief Constable, and to my surprise he invited me in; don't forget I was still in my early twenties and in awe of these people; another being The Rev. David Protheroe, son of a respected Penyrheol family who, wanting to do good, joined the local police force, but once told me that he gave it up because he thought he could serve society better through the church. There was Derek Williams, Labour Mayor of the town whose local was the Conservative cub, where the President was my old junior school teacher, Kenneth Adams Morgan, son of another respected family; and the Rev.Bill Morgan, not an ex-policeman but an ex miner who entered in to politics and under the auspices of the church melded the two by socially experimenting, establishing schemes to help the youth of the town in jobs & housing, his wife Barbara taught me social studies and they came to visit me in Brittany; he was my mother's vicar in Penydarren and left us far too early. There were other characters and personalities I met through Plaid Cymru, none larger than the actor Ray Smith & the poet John Tripp, I found myself sharing a bar with them in a pub in Troedyrhiw and left with a signed copy of an anthology of poems; another time I accidentally spilled some beer from my pint over Winifred Ewing the SNP MP, later I was to spend part of an evening with her daughter-in-law Margaret Bain MP who stood for the leadership of her party against Alex Salmond in 1990 by then as Margaret Ewing, at a social function in the Rhymney valley.
Another thing was my interest in the Welsh Language, which got me into conversations with the older people whose Welsh is the Gwenhwyseg dialect and different to other parts of Cymru/Wales, but as I was picking up this remnant of the Glamorgan/Gwent speech I moved to Brittany.
With Elwyn Beynon returning to good health and the storeman's job, and with nothing permanent at hand, I had no interest in staying at Dowlais Yard any longer, there was no chance of getting back in the stores so I applied for a vacancy, still with the Council, at Rhydycar Sports & Leisure Centre, where I'd organized the Injaroc concert; I became a Shop Steward again, defending the rights and arranging holiday rotas of the cleaners & ancillary staff; My boss was Dave Evans, he told me that he went to Millfield with Gareth Edwards, reminding me of his after match statements " What did you think of the match Gareth? Grêt, Grêt", how did the tactics you employed serve you in regard to the eventual victory? Grêt. The under managers were John Stokes & Philip Davies, and one of the supervisors was Football League First Division referee, Gerald Morgan. I was working with my cousin Sylvia's husband Granville Jones, and the job entailed setting up and preparing for sports, concerts and exhibitions, working behind the bar, particularly for Christmas, generally seeing that everything was in working order and kept tidy. On our breaks Granville & I would bring out a table tennis table for a game and/or go to the kitchen or bar for a snack/drink. Have you ever thought of the work that goes into wiping the squash ball marks off the walls? that and collecting rain sodden ash bins mentioned earlier are the two worst jobs that I've had the misfortune to undertake, luckily I had a willing partner in the person of Roy Jehu. Trevor Vale was working there as a supervisor after many years working in the rates office, he was also the archery instructor; with his wife Valerie, a local artiste, they were very much part of the Merthyr establishment, the borough crachach, but of the laid back sort and easy going. On my walks I'd take my camera with me, much as I do now, one day I showed a photo to Valerie of the Taf Fechan where it flows on from Cefn bridge and the land opens out behind Cefn where the Cyfarthfa lake feeder begins, here I saw a kingfisher for the only time in my life and is now part of the 'Taff Trail', it was of a small but delightfully aesthetic waterfall, she asked me if she could borrow it to paint it onto canvass, unfortunately I moved away so I never got to see the result nor the photo again.
My last political act was in representing 6 council candidates for the Park Ward in the Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council elections, thursday May 3rd 1979, I was let into the college for the count on friday May 4th as their agent.
I'm a Merthyr boy through and through, how many others have kept the town hall fires burning, been on its roof, stood on the top tower of Cyfarthfa Castle, walked across the 2 viaducts, the 3 iron bridges, followed Cyfarthfa lake feeder, the canal, the Trevithick tramway, walked through the 2 remaining railway tunnels, crossed the escarpment to the chartists' cave & Trefil quarries, walked on Cyfarthfa lake, climbed up and through Morlais quarry to the castle and stood for council?
I often used to chat with the editor of the Merthyr Express at lunch time in the Belle Vue pub down the street from the offices, I was also a regular contributor to his letter page; his chief reporter and photographer were the couple Robert Haines & Melanie Doel, Robert is an old friend, who has moved away and has published an album of photos depicting the characters of his youth, which they are in the process of filming, one of whom, Jackie Webber (he who drowned in the Top Pond)'s brother Melvyn, a so called hard man was blasted to death through his front door on the Gurnos, I worked with him for a while at the Dowlais yard; while Melanie moved on to the BBC. I had the great honour of the both of them flying over to Brittany to cover my wedding for the paper.
I was going nowhere fast then something happened to turn my life on its head taking me somewhere fast completely changing my life; some of my Cardiff friends came up to Merthyr, we finished the evening with a curry in Hal Al's where they told me they were off to Brittany and that there was room for one more. I claimed my two weeks summer holidays, travelled with them, met Elise, returned home after the fortnight, the following day we were followed by a band of Bretons, including Elise, en route to the Caernarfon National Eisteddfod. My holidays over I asked my boss for a week's extension, to which he replied in the affirmative. We all went up to Caernarfon, the first night the Bretons and myself sleeping in a large, slightly cramped tent, when a very considerate Louis l'Official from Poullaouen got up in the middle of the night, went outside for a while, came back and announced that he had pitched a smaller one for the benefit of Elise & myself, spent a week there, at the end of which Elise and her Bretons went home and I went back to work. One month later Elise turned up on my doorstep wanting me to come back to Brittany with her, we drove down to Plymouth thereby brusquely terminating my Merthyr story (To be continually revised and augmented as my memory returns).
Vol II yet to be written; 'My Brittany story' or 'How an uncultured Merthyr boy kept a pub in Brittany for 30 years and managed, against all the odds, to remain uncultured