Western Mail - - WM2 - To Hear The Sky­lark’s Song A Mem­oir by Huw Lewis

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.

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