Friday, 31 October 2014
For the time while I am away on my holidays I have given the keys of my blog to my dad - Peter Davies. I hope he takes good care of it. This is the final one in my dad’s takeover week. Thanks Dad. Hope you come back again for my next break.
I was worried – just when most ten year olds had finished with that sort of thing, I had started to wet the bed.
I had come to live in Cardiff having spent an idyllic early childhood in the Rhondda Valley. Cardiff could have been Garmisch-Partenkirchen as far as I was concerned. It was a world where freshly scrubbed kids wore socks without holes, a world where my mother put on a posh accent when talking to the neighbours and where my uncle, whose butcher shop we lived behind - as we had done in the Rhondda - started fiddling his middle class customers, a thing he would almost never have done up in the valleys.
At Whitchurch Junior School they didn’t know what to do with this Welshy, podgy little urchin in his bendy, tortoiseshell National Health specs. Eventually they stuck me in the back row of Standard 4A. Sitting the Scholarship fever was gripping the school and as well as grooming Standard 5A swots for the exam, they entered a few children from Standard 4A ‘just for the experience’.
Dear reader – I passed the Scholarship!
I took the letter home from ‘Tosser’ Thomas, our Headmaster.
‘I doan wanna go, Mam’.
‘Lets see what your father says when he comes home from work
shall we, cariad?’
‘I doan wanna go, Dad’.
‘You’re bloody going and that’s it!’
And so I was to become the youngest kid ever to Amo Amas Amat and to add insult to injury, I wouldn’t be going to the school right opposite us in Whitchurch, instead I was going to have to travel daily to some posh place the other side of Cardiff.
Now this is where the worry and the lack of urine retention I mentioned earlier comes in as they started to interfere with my inside leg at Bon Marche and put a tape-measure around my head so that I could be togged up to go to something they called a grammar school – and one that was 10 miles away by train in the bargain.
At ten past seven on the first morning, underneath a massive plastic satchel and luminous cap and blazer and gripping my season ticket for the train, I started the long trudge down to the station.
I will not bore you with every detail of my first day at Penarth County Grammar School. Suffice it to say that the Initiation Ceremony on the train, masterminded by the Lunatic Fringe of Form 3C, saw my season ticket ritualistically ripped in half and each half placed in each of my shoes which, in turn, were thrown up onto the luggage rack. But they didn’t have it all their own way for I did manage to deploy my pencil - sharpened to perfection by my father the previous evening - sufficiently well to put Fatty Llewelyn off and so prevent my cap from going out of the train window during the ‘I throw/ you pull up the window strap’ part of the proceedings.
Wetting my new short trousers because I didn’t know what the word ‘urinal’ meant seemed quite a catastrophe but thankfully Pongo Daniels, my form teacher, came to my rescue by forcing me to stand facing the radiator, a punishment for eating my Marmite sandwiches while singing Forty Years On in Assembly.
My fear of the unknown continued into the afternoon manifesting itself dramatically when the effect of eating my first ever portion of school dinners’ frogspawn coincided with my first ever intake of
breath in the Physics Lab.
The train journey home was fairly uneventful except that a girl from Form 2B, Myfanwy Evans (from the rougher end of Llandaff North) took a fancy to me. Trouble was, the way to pledge undying love in her neck of the woods was to smash the object of your affection full in the mouth!
I arrived home with the strap of my plastic satchel broken, the yellow braid of my erstwhile pristine blazer a horrible brown colour, the stiffening of the peak of my cap poking out and with half a season ticket clasped in each hand.
My mother, who was out talking politely to the neighbours, took all of this in instantly, as mothers do, as well as noticing the blood down the front of my white shirt from Myfanwy Evans’s uppercut, not to mention catching a whiff of the stale urine wafting upwards from my trouser area.
‘My poor little cariad’ my mother shouted, regressing into her Rhondda Valley vernacular to the disgust of the neighbours, ‘whatever sort of first day have you had at Big School, my bachgen bach?’
‘Duw Mam’ I said, ‘it was brilliant!’
Thursday, 30 October 2014
For the time while I am away on my holidays I have given the keys of my blog to my dad - Peter Davies. I hope he takes good care of it This is the fourth story in my dad’s takeover week.
It was difficult being an eight-year-old towards the end of the Second World War. It wasn’t the things you had to do without like oranges, bananas, best butter or even underpants. In fact, when I finally got to tasting a banana I wondered what the adults were making all the fuss about - even after I discovered you had to peel the things!
No, what got me was the fact that most adults who surrounded me thought that the topics of war, politics and even the boy and girl thing, were their territory alone. Not only did children have to be ‘seen and not heard’ but us eight-year-olds had to pretend we were blind, deaf and brain dead, too.
But wasn’t it us who got evacuated? Wasn’t it me and Ianto who found foreign money up Cwm Field after Italian prisoners of war escaped from Bridgend Camp? Wasn’t it Standard 4 who saw their teacher, Mr Llew Pritchard, safely home in the blackout after he’d got hold of black-market whisky from Viv the Spiv?
Sorry to say all the stuff Freud had spouted pre-war about child emancipation seemed lost on adults inhabiting my corner of the Rhondda Valley in 1945. The truth is that any self-respecting eight-year-old has a congenital need to know yet what were we confronted with? Slogans like WALLS HAVE EARS and, would you believe, BE LIKE DAD, KEEP MUM!
The situation did not daunt us in the slightest, of course, for us kids listened to Winston Churchill on the wireless, too, and our inquisitiveness wasn’t going to be snuffed out just because of some old war. We fought them in the streets, we fought them in the hills and never in the field of human conflict was so many questions asked by so many kids to so many adults.
‘Who’s Lord Haw Haw please, Mr Lewis?’ I’d never seen Pastor Hezekiah Lewis, our Pentecostal Minister, without hispiano-accordion and he played a loud chord on it and said ‘Alleluia – Praise the Lord’ but, come to think of it,
that was his response to anyone who spoke to him.
‘What are Bile Beans, Mam?’ I thought this was quite a reasonable query but it sent my mother into her ‘I haven’t got time to stand here....’ mode although it didn’t stop a further outburst of ‘...what with your father and rationing and -look at your hands, have you been on the coal tip again?’ in fact, I nearly didn’t ask her my follow-up question about medically approved laxatives.
It was unwise of me to ask my Dad about wartime coalition governments so soon after he’d boxed my years for singing Mairzy Doats for the umpteenth time. My ARP-weary father uttered several phrases of which Pastor Hezekiah Lewis would have disapproved together with a remarkable suggestion about where he’d stick Income Tax if he ever met someone called Hugh Dalton.
Hence question after question was asked andq uestion after question went unanswered. Once I had to stand in the corner at school facing a big poster which read CARELESS TALK COSTS LIVES having had a bet with Ianto that I wouldn’t ask Miss if she was thinner or fatter than Anne Shelton. Then I lost a week’s sweet ration by asking my Aunty Morwen if those pictures of Jane in the Daily Mirror were called strip cartoons because Jane kept taking her clothes off.
The war was coming to an end and I still couldn’t find out why every American GI who gave me some gum wanted to know ifI had a sister, why we needed to hate a bloke called Mussolini and why there might soon be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover.
Everyone had collected in the British Restaurant to listen to an announcement about VJ Day on the Home Service. Ianto and I looked around us and started to count all those adults who had avoided answering our questions over the last year. The announcement was made and soon the excited chatter died down. Always eager to take advantage of a room full of adults and a lull in the conversation, I suddenly piped up ‘Dad, why has Hitler only got one...?’
My father had read the situation perfectly and by the time I had finished my question he was past Thomas and Evans and half-way down Llwynypia Street.
It was left to Pastor Hezekiah Lewis to break the horrendous silence that had fallen over the gathering by playing a loud chord on his piano-accordion,
‘Alleluia’ he said, ‘Praise the Lord!’
Wednesday, 29 October 2014
For the time I am away on my holidays I have given the keys of my blog to my dad - Peter Davies. I hope he takes good care of it. I know he will. This is the third in my dad’s takeover week.
‘Excuse me Sir, is this your suitcase?’
‘As far as I know, squire’ I said to the Customs Officer and couldn’t resist adding ‘it’s hard to tell what with Whizz-By Airline’s low-cost policy of no luggage labels, no tickets, no in-flight nibbles and no sick-bags.’
‘Do you mind opening it please’ said the impassive stalwart of HMG. My joke about having a stash of heroine froze on my lips as I opened up my case to reveal about a hundred tightly-packed transparent bags of white powder.
Predictably HMG-bod said ‘Would you mind walking this way Sir’ and before I knew it I was in a dismal room deep in the bowels of the airport and was being greeted by the little old lady who I’d sat next to on the plane and who was in a right old stew. She told me that three identical cases including hers and mine had been searched. With a jab of her thumb she indicated that the spivy looking bloke with the Brylcream hair on the other side of the glass panel was the owner of the third case.
It was probably the fact that I lifted myself several inches off my seat to get a better view of Spivy that made him raise two surprisingly well-manicured fingers high in the air!
Before long I was moved to a prison-like, windowless room and I convinced myself that the forlorn wave from the little old lady would be my last ever contact with the outside world for the foreseeable future. I sat dejectedly trying to decide in what order I would demand to see my wife, my solicitor (but I didn’t have one), the creep who had sold me my suitcase – and oh yes, the Whizz-By executive whose decision it was to do away with luggage labels.
After what seemed a lifetime a cheery, yes a cheery Customs man poked his head around the door. ‘All sorted guv’nor’ he said ‘your case is waiting for you, you’re free to go.’ I wanted to kiss him, instead I tried to say something casual, even macho. What actually came out was a rather highpitched ‘Oh, sorted you said, squire?’
‘Yep’ said Cheery, ‘three identical cases, one with your clobber in it, one with the long elasticated knickers and the Eau de Cologne and one with the smack, of course.’
As I collected my case I heard a terrific commotion and watched in amazement as they led away the drug-runner heavily handcuffed and hurling obscenities to everyone in sight. It was none other than the dear old lady I had sat next to on the plane!
Gripping my suitcase tightly I gratefully breathed in the cool air outside the airport terminal. It was then that I saw the Spivy looking Brylcream character standing in a queue waiting for a taxi. I grinned at him and shouted ‘You must be the long elasticated knickers and the Eau de Cologne then!’
For a second time on that eventful afternoon two surprisingly well-manicured fingers were held high in the air.