I KEPT my ‘alleys’ and ‘bompers’ in an old tin that had once held chocolate brazils. There was a fair amount of winning and losing over time, but I always held back my favourite ‘alley,’ with its navy blue swirl in its centre and a tiny dent in its surface that only I would ever notice. That one was special, for practise only, and never to be risked.
My father’s mother, Lilian Margaret Williams, was born in 1909 (‘nineteen-ought-nine,’ as she always put it) in Moy Road, Aberfan. At the age of fourteen she was sent away to work ‘in service.’ She ended up in Eastbourne as a maid-of-allwork to a family of ‘broken down toffs’ as she recalled them. She hated it, of course, and the pain of her homesickness echoed down the decades whenever she retold the story.
‘They think we Welsh live in caves,’ she would say, ‘but that dirty bugger (the head of the Eastbourne household) would spit on the grate like a navvy. Ych a Fi.’ It took me some years to realise that cleaning that grate would have been one of her duties. I can picture her clearly now, sitting up in bed, as she was wont to do on cold winter evenings, wearing a cardigan and a furry green hat reserved only for this purpose.
Her dentures out, and sucking on a Minto, she’d read the News Of The World, a copy of which would last her all week, muttering under her breath, ‘Well, well, well, the dirty buggers.’ The piercing of any hypocrisy of those in public life seemed always to bring her satisfaction.
She would always steadfastly refuse to relate to me the stories of defrocked vicars or politicians caught in scandal from the pages of the paper, since I was too young to know about such things. ‘Never you mind,’ she’d say.
At such times she’d relate to me stories of her own past. Of how, when she was a girl growing up in Moy Road, swarms of ‘black pats’ (cockroaches) lived in daytime behind the wallpaper, gnawing away at the flour and water paste used to hang it, and how at night they would swarm out and carpet the floor under cover of darkness, so that if you needed the chamber pot in the night you would have to crunch them underfoot.