The destruction being wrought made me think back, to remember
It took the builders three days to knock through the wall of my bedroom to put in a window. Day after day, they chipped and hammered and swore until the hole in the four foot thick wall was big enough to let in the sun, but bigger than the view of Polly Garter next-door’s garden deserved.
|With my great-gran on the steps of Albert House|
That house, the stands in the middle of a terrace in the heart of the village. It was a matriarchal household: throughout my childhood there were four generations of women living there. My grandfather was a quiet gentle man, content to sit in his chair by the window, listening to the wireless and smoking his cigarettes, and my father, well, he was a character in one of my library books. On the rare occasions when I felt well-disposed towards him, he was the heroic Mr March away at war; most times he was the unseen parent who packed his daughter off to boarding school and sold her pony the moment she’d gone.
|My great-grandfather, the man occupying centre stage|
As I said, my great-grandmother had eight surviving children and her presence in my growing-up home meant a constant flow of visitors. The encompassing of me within this extended family provided a shelter, the walls of which were stronger than bricks and mortar, and it was easy to ignore the non-existence of one person, to have only a vague awareness that something was missing but that it didn’t really matter much. I was surrounded with love and its Welsh synonym, good home cooking. When there were lots of us, the family, there for dinner we would pull out the table and I would squeeze onto the bench next to the wall. This was my favourite place, where the bricks I leaned against were warmed by Mr Shires next door’s fire. I sat quietly in the glow of conversation and knew that here I was safe.
In 1964 I passed my eleven plus and the door to the another world, to Glanmor Grammar School, a more precarious world of Latin and physics, was opened to me. There was one other fatherless girl in the class but her father had had the decency to die. I explained to those who wanted to know that my father worked abroad. The summer of love was still to come and, in any case, free love only applied to the beautiful people out there, not the parents of good grammar school girls in South Wales.
My French teacher was called Miss George. She was soft-spoken with a gentle face and greying uncontrollable hair. In her lesson she asks around the class the question, Est ce que faites votre pere? Thirty three girls sitting in rows waiting for their turn, or in my case, praying for the bell to ring, please, before Miss George gets to me, please don’t let her ask me. Shall I lie, make up an answer? Il est un medecin. Tres bien, where does he work? No, I’d blush, stutter, be caught out. Mon pere est mort. Convenient but they all know. The bell rings, the problem goes away for today, and I go home to steak and kidney pie and rice pudding.
|Some of that extended family on the steps|
When I enter the house that is now my home, I breathe in the same sense of security that my first home gave me; I hope my children feel it too.
Since it was sold out of the family, Albert House has come on the market several times. Each time one or other member of the family views it with barely-concealed desire. But it’s never really suitable: too big, too small, no garage, no garden.
I was the last of the family to be born in Albert House and I linger over the link with the past. I’ve looked on old maps, tried to locate the public house that was to become my home. I’ve never been able to find it.