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

AFTER he re­tired, my grand­fa­ther would of­ten wait at the top of the street, op­po­site the shop, for my brother and me to emerge at the end of the school day and there was, most days, a thrup­penny bit for each of us to spend. I would clutch the re­as­sur­ing heav­i­ness of the coin tightly in my hand as I ran across the road to the shop.

Flower’s sold most of the sweets that Terry Mar­tin did, but some­times they also car­ried toy tat­too patches that came in lit­tle cel­lo­phane en­velopes. These were a favourite of mine. I re­mem­ber choos­ing a skull and cross­bones de­sign one day, etched out in black and inky blue.

To get the tat­toos to work you licked your fore­arm and ap­plied the pa­per patch pic­ture side down to the wet spit, press­ing hard. For a good re­sult, the trick was to leave the patch on your skin for as long as you could bear to wait. I peeled mine off as slowly and steadily as I could, to re­veal the re­sult, blurred around its edges like a bruise. It was fan­tas­tic.

As I was a lit­tle older by now and the map of my world was ex­tend­ing slowly at its mar­gins, it was deemed okay for me to play un­su­per­vised on the Cres­cent Street River­stones after tea each day. The river wall that sep­a­rated my grand­fa­ther’s gar­den from this new play­ground was five feet high and three feet wide, easy to climb, and its smooth flat top was broad enough to belt along at top speed from al­most one end of the street to the other.

To drop down onto the other side of the wall, onto the River­stones, was to leap through a door­way into an­other world, one which seemed re­served for us kids, as adults rarely ven­tured there.

Sim­ply a gen­tly slop­ing peb­ble-and-rock-strewn bank on the in­side of a bend in the River Taff, the River­stones were a side ef­fect of the divert­ing of the course of the river by Vic­to­rian engi­neers when the pit was orig­i­nally sunk. Shaped like a cres­cent moon it was pinched off at each end by high walls and tan­gles of Ja­panese knotweed, bram­bles and ‘po­lice­man’s hel­met’ plants with their ex­plod­ing seed pods.

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