Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where is my Wales?

As a very small child, I knew where Wales was. It was the coal yard down the road from my little Welsh grandmother's house. Even as an under five I associated Wales with coal even if my geography was somewhat parochial - the coal yard was in North Watford!

As I grew up I had a slightly more accurate idea of Wales athough it remained for me a mythical place. It was the location of my grandmother's stories of washing her brothers in tin baths when they came up from the pits, of speaking only Welsh at home and learning English at school, of people with mellifluous names and tragic stories. My grandmother was a great story teller and prone to repeating herself so that the stories, the mythology of her Wales, became part of the warp and weft of my life. My Wales, her Wales, was no doubt the Wales of the 1920s and 30s and for a child with hopelessly romantic soul her tales were irresistable.

It was this week, now in my forties with my grandmother dead for almost a decade, that I visited the village of her childhood: Tumble, the place with the slightly comical name that literally is/was the Land of my Fathers. I was on my way home from Pembrokeshire, a place of pure soft light, glittering seas and secluded inlets. Tumble is on the way home and I felt a real desire to visit this place that was so much part of my life yet which I had never seen.

So it was that at about half past eight on a Sunday morning I parked on the steep high street. I so wanted to love Tumble and yet I was filled with a terrible sense of sadness and, dare I say it, disappointment. This was not the staunchly working class mining village with bucolic tendenies of my imagination. It looked bleak, the houses were grey and eyeless and my overall impression was one of a place that had been a victim of de-industrilisation as much as its people, and my relatives, were a victim of the mines that once supported it.

I couldn't wait to get back in the car and leave. It's the people that make you love a place and for me whereever my dear grandmother was it was 'Wales', with whatever that meant for us as a family. We definitely had our own culture, our own mythology, words and ways and she was the centre of that and so much of what I am today is because of her influence and loving presence. So I'm going to content myself with the Tumble of my heart but I do hope that behind those early morning windows there was warmth and happiness and maybe people with whom I share the odd gene!

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