HOW GREEN WAS MY DUFFEL COAT?
By Peter S. O’Neil
Here we are, the village of Dan-y-Bont. It means ‘under the bridge’. Nothing special, see? Three rows of terraced houses running parallel along the hillside, the old primary school, a chapel, a little police house, a corner shop and a rugby club, known as the ‘Bonters’, with its sloping pitch by the river. The only feature that sets it apart from so many other villages in the area is the railway viaduct that spans the valley and gave the village its name.
The railway viaduct used to be part of the web-like network that ran from all the mining communities down to the docks, the foundries and the factories of the major towns. All those little communities born out of the black, smoking fires of the Industrial Revolution.
No trains cross that viaduct any more. It’s part of the Ramblers’ network now. Backpacks and bottled water. Men with pony-tails and women wearing trousers and steel-toe-capped boots.
It’s a new world, alright, but this is where I grew up. Just another snotty-nosed little boy in shorts and a woolly, red jumper that my Nan knitted for me which, as far as I was concerned, transformed me into Captain Scarlet whenever I pulled it on. Indestructible I was, well, until I came down that slag-heap on a bike with no brakes.
Do memories play tricks or is it just that they are the memories of childhood, but didn’t it all seem so much better then? Simpler, for certain. You went to school, first at the village primary and then on to the comprehensive in the Cwm, and, when you looked, or were, old enough you went to work ‘on the coal’, off the books. It’s the way it was.
Dan-y-Bont Primary School closed down as part of the “centralisation of the valleys”, but there used to be an Honour Roll board in the corridor with the names of former pupils who actually sat ‘O’ Levels or G.C.S.E.’s and went on to Further Education. There was also a brass plaque dedicated to one former pupil who actually went on to Higher Education. Rhodri Preece went to Cardiff College. People in the village reckoned on him being the next J.P.R. Williams. A full-back with a brain!
Yes, of course Rhodri played rugby! Dan-y-Bont demands it of its young men. After all, the older generations can’t keep playing forever. Poor Selwyn Davies played second-row well into his sixties until somebody else finally grew up to be tall enough!
Everyone thought that Rhodri was destined to marry Ffion Thomas, the most popular girl in the village and United Collieries Easter Pageant Princess three years running, but, by the time Rhodri finished college, Ffion already had four children, on account of her being so popular, and was living in the biggest council house in Dan-y-Bont – an end-of-terrace with a lean-to on the back kitchen.
Fair play mind, Ffion was always good for a lend of a few quid on Child Benefit day. On a Thursday morning, the queue outside the Post Office was mostly people waiting for Ffion. Mrs. Lloyd, the Post Mistress, always closed early on a Thursday once Ffion had been in.
Funny though, no-one knew Mrs. Lloyd’s first name. She was always just Mrs. Lloyd. “Hello, Mrs. Lloyd,” “Lovely day, Mrs. Lloyd,” “Second class stamp, please, Mrs. Lloyd.” If you visit the cemetery behind the chapel, you’ll find her gravestone with the epitaph: “Mrs. Lloyd. Dan-y-Bont’s last Post Mistress. R.I.P.”
You see, after she passed away, they closed the Post Office. More of the centralisation. Mr. Patel started selling stamps in the corner shop. People weren’t too sure if the stamps would be the same, but they were.
Centralisation. Everything moved to the Cwm. It wasn’t a great deal bigger than most of the villages but it had the comprehensive school and a lay-by big enough for two buses, and, of course, it had a Woolworth’s.
The police service was the other facility that moved to the Cwm. I’ll tell you more about that the next time, is it?