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Memories

July 3, 2009

It's been an interesting few weeks managing a narrative capture in the UK and Pakistan, interpreting the material and writing the report. I freely admit that I have been moved to tears reading some of the material from refugee camps. Reading material from 14 year olds talking about the suffering of others, when they face displacement and immanent violence, is a sobering experience. The pilot is now complete, and I can catch up on multiple emails and other work which has been ignored under the pressure of a sustained period of 18 hour days. I should also get back into the habit of updating this blog daily. This week I have been in Wales working on the definition phase of a series of possible pilot projects looking at the impact of Government on the people. More of those in the future if they move forward. For the moment I was reflecting on displacement, a sense of Hiraeth that comes on with increasing strength these days. Hiraeth is another of those welsh words, like Cynefin that have no literal translation, the nearest is a sense of longing, a desire to return to the place of your multiple belongings.

Now being in Cardiff, or Wales generally always has this effect on me, there are so many memories. The walk from Cardiff General to Sophia Gardens passes the Millennium Stadium, passing along the River Taff. I still remember my first sight of a Kingfisher as a young boy exploring the river near Llandaf Cathedral. Next to the Millennium Stadium is the Arms Park, which saw its last game of Magners League Rugby only a couple of months ago. When I was a teenager that was the Cricket Ground and I was always there for the annual summer tour to see the West Indies or Australia. Somewhere in the loft I still have the team photographs with autographs carefully hunted down on the boundary over a three day game for some of the all time greats such as Wes Hall. I don't think I have ever walked that path (and I have done it many times) without remembering those occasions; sitting with a score book for three days with my parents watching the game unfold. Don't let anyone tell you that cricket is boring. I saw my first game of Rugby at the old Arms Park next door. Cardiff v Liverpool as I remember it.

The seminar itself brought back other memories. In one group we were talking about potential narrative capture in hospitals in North Wales. I realised then that I had personal knowledge of all three.

  • Bodelwyddan replaced the old St Asaph General Hospital. Too many years ago when I was 17 my father was late back from work, not that unusual but my mother was increasingly distressed. Each of my parents always seemed to have a telepathic knowledge of when the other was in trouble. When the phone call came, it was expected. An idiot had overtaken on a blind bend and rammed head on into my Father who was driving home. My some miracle he survived but took well over a year to recover which meant that things were tight. He lost a patella in the process and I took time out to drive him as much as possible, In some ways it was a good period, long hours in the car together driving between farms before I went up to University meant that I got to know and respect him more as a person. I also saw him carrying the work he loved and acquired my own appreciation of the intelligence of pigs and the beauty of a thoroughbred horse fresh off the boats from Ireland in advance of Chester Races . My daughter will join me for a project in Australia next month and I hope to achieve something of the same, shifting from a purely paternal relationship to something more.
  • Wrecsam was the nearest major hospital to our home in Mold. Many years later when I was living in Send, near Guildford I got a late night phone call from home. My father had gone round to my sister's house for the evening and had suffered a heart attack. By great good fortune her next door neighbour was a nurse in an A&E Unit and he kept my father alive until the Ambulance arrived. I packed a bag in three minutes flat and set off for a 200 mile drive, nearly all Motorway so I made it in under 2 hours. The police stopped me north of Birmingham (I was doing 130mph at the time, but on a deserted road I should add). The Peugeot 405 GTXi was a wonderful car (and saved my own life a few years later but that is another story). They were very good as they saw the level of my distress, made a call to the hospital to check I was telling the truth and then gave me an escort to M54 so I wouldn't be stopped again. Dad survived that one to and was fit enough to go treking in Western Australia shortly afterwards (he was retired by then).
  • Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor was the third, and the one I knew best. My parents moved to Moelfre and Dad suffered a series of illnesses that eventually culminated in throat cancer and death some ten days before my mother also died of lung cancer, attributed to secondary smoking. When she had her first course of palliative chemotherapy she was next door to him on his last day of consciousness and they were able to sit together for a last time, in a silence that was more meaningful than many a conversation.

Memories are strange things, and the smallest thing can trigger multiple memories and reflections. Places situation those memories, they create a sense of continuity across generations. Some of those memories are good, others in that strange place where tragedy meets celebration.

The picture is by Katy Webster, entitled Hiraeth II, acrylic on slate shown at the Earth Gallery in Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceirog, a wonderful place in its own right, tucked away at the foot of the Berwyn Mountains looking towards Oswestry in the East. Strongly recommended for a visit.

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