Felix culpa

November 2, 2010

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
For nothing gold can stay.

As regular readers of this blog will know I have a particular love for Robert Frost. His 1923 poem expresses wonderfully the tension between loss and progress. I was reminded of it today as I returned after to long an absence to the town where I grew up.

We moved to Mold when I was five and I left for University at the age of eighteen. I had finally conceded to my relationship managers desire to see me more services and as my account has been at the same branch since I was seventeen (very good for the credit score) that meant a visit to my old home.   

I was up in Liverpool working on a project and stayed at the Bryn Awel Hotel. It was a country house when I was young, and the game keepers used to chase us from the footpaths of the estate. Now it’s a wonderfully welcoming hotel. The room was more like staying as a guest in the house, and the night plus a two course meal. excellent breakfast and few pints cost less than £80. The next day I had an hour before my appointment and on a whim decided to take photographs of each school I had attended and each house in which I had lived. You can see the results below

My father had given up private practice and and joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a Veterinary Officer. We were living at the family home in Cardiff and when he was posted to North Wales our situation was regarded sympathetically by relatives, with many a wish that we would return to civilisation at some time in the future. Relationships between North and South Wales have never been easy. It’s worth remembering that in those days we had a vote every seven years to determine if pubs could open on a Sunday and the north was teetotal. If you didn’t go to the Bethesda Chapel you stood little chance of a senior job in education. We were dragged into the pictured edifice for lectures on sin and our duty to lesser black brethren overseas (yes it was racist).

Everyone knew what everyone else was doing. This persisted, when I returned home after University I drove 30 miles across the moors to Bala to buy a love spoon as an engagement offering to; my mother knew of the purchase before I returned home. I should by the way have spent the winter months carving this myself, but I took the commercial approach. In some ways the town has changed but not much. OK the newsagent from which every morning come rain or snow I rode out for my newspaper round is now a coffee bar but many of the shops are unaltered. The opening picture of this post is the shoe shop to which the annual pilgrimage for black shoes for the new school term was made and it still has one of the same staff, serving a new generation at the age of 88.

The Church and Motte & Bailey castle dominate all views of the town and the older buildings that cluster around them on the hill may not be outstanding architecture, but they are solid. Daniel Owen’s statue has moved to the new library but it still stands. The Alleluia monument still stands, somewhat forlornly on the side of a road surrounding by some o the town’s most depressing housing. It celebrates a celtic victory over the saxons, achieved by shouting Alleluia to give the impression of a larger force.

When we first moved, it was to rented accommodation in the nearby village of Gwernaffield (where my sister now lives) and I attended my first year of formal schooling in the village school, mostly sons and daughers of farmers and farm laborers. My parents purchased a house in a new development to the west of town, but it was delayed so we had a brief sojourn in a bungalow in Ewloe, but that was demolished long ago for the A55 express way. Moldsdale Road saw me through primary school with a three mile daily walk, in shorts, trousers had to await the age of 11. My primary school was Bryn Coch and we started in an old, a very old building whose toilets would induce constipation and which had separate entrances for girls and boys. After a year we moved to the new school and some liberation, although there was a yellow line down the centre of the playground. Boys were confined to the east, girls were allowed to range over the whole area.

From there to the Grammar School (which was a comprehensive before I left) and another move to a new house, this one built for us on a spare building plot. It was known as the house with no chimneys, the first in the town to rely solely on central heating and the first to feature a shower! My children remain appalled that in earlier days we only had a bath, and ritually used it weekly. Mind you there was one fire in the old house and the water used to freeze in the glass in the bedrooms during winter. My Dad came up with the name for the new house – Four Peaks, well four Snowden’s lived there and the confusing with Snowdon was as common then as it is now. I shed a tear when I saw that the old sign he put together thirty years was still there, and his garden was more or less unaltered and had been maintained by the new users.

The old sweet shop, remembering the walk down Gas Lane every day, making oneself inconspicuous to avoid giving the North family an excuse to bully, the builders merchant were we bought timer, the garage where my uncle had his last and fatal heart attack. Many many memories; childhood can with good parents be an age of innocence, immunised from the troubles of the world. We have to move on but we are the product of our past, we live in continuity with it and our imagined futures. Dawn does down to day.

I’ve now set myself the task to get pictures of all the houses I have lived in, which means Essex, Oxfordshire, Glamorgan, Somerset, Hertfordshire and Lancaster are all due a visit.

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