HOW GREEN WAS MY DUFFEL COAT? (continued)
By Peter S. O’Neil
Dan-y-Bont. Here we are again. ‘Under the bridge’, remember? Terraced houses, the corner shop and the chapel up there on the side of the hill. Down in the valley, more houses, bigger ones, private ones, the ‘Bonters’ rugby club next to the river and the old police house by the bus stop.
They built that breeze-block bus shelter back in the seventies. The very first piece of graffiti is still there, inside: “Dai luvs Rhian”. There were seventeen Dais and eleven Rhians in the village at that time and, to everyone’s knowledge, none of the Dais were ‘officially’ romantically entangled with any of the Rhians. It’s a local mystery. Maybe that’s why the graffiti was never removed? It’s a constant reminder that people still want to know which Dai and Rhian it was. I’ve got a theory of my own about that.
But I’ve gone off on a tangent again, haven’t I? I was going to tell you all about the old police house. Well, before the ‘centralisation of the valleys’, and for the twenty-odd years prior to it, Police Sergeant Richard Lewis occupied the police house in his capacity as Dan-y-Bont’s village bobby. ‘Dickie Dwt’ he was called because he was barely five feet tall. We all thought that you had to be six feet and above to join the police. Dickie must have lied about his height. Mind you, what he lacked in height he more than made up for in unbridled enthusiasm. He was fast too, nippy, due to his low centre of gravity. If you were going to run from Dickie Dwt, you had to be fast.
He very rarely arrested anyone though. No, he was quite happy to mete out his own brand of justice, on the spot, and send you on your way. Especially the youngsters. These were different times, of course. If you went home and told your Mam and Dad that Dickie Dwt had given you a good pasting, they’d most likely give you another one and then invite Dickie around for tea to get the story from him. You’d probably get a third hiding after that, just for good measure.
‘Petty crime’ is probably too harsh a description for most of what went on and serious crime was unheard of. These were close communities. When the coal industry collapsed, villages in the valleys became little pockets of depression. Dickie Dwt was put out to pasture and Dan-y-Bont became a haunt of the ‘Panda Patrol’. A police car would pass slowly through the village, regular as clockwork, three times a day. People thought crime would go up but the levels dropped dramatically. Well, no-one reported them anymore, did they? Everything was dealt with ‘in house’, so to speak.
The police house was closed up and the South Wales Constabulary eventually sold it at auction to a local entrepreneur. So it was, after more than a century as home and station to many long-serving village policemen, that the old police house re-opened as the Dan-y-Bont Bistro.
My Nan and a few of her friends sometimes went there, as a treat, for tea and a cake. “I’m going down the bisto,” she’d say. “No, Nan,” I’d say, “it’s bistro, with an R.” “Yes, yes,” she’d reply, “ah, bisto!”
Needless to say, it didn’t last. Why would it? There was little call for fine dining in Dan-y-Bont. Not even Ffion Thomas could afford to eat there on Child Benefit day!
The old police house closed again and remained so for a number of years. Then, it was re-purchased by public funding. It underwent a facelift (they painted the outside pink) and it opened its doors once again, this time as Dan-y-Bont Community Library and Help Centre, providing books for the bored and advice for substance abusers, all under one roof. Within two years, a lack of public funding meant that it had to close.
An artist (sculptress, I suppose is correct) lives there now. She calls herself Abigail Lindqvist, but her name is really Alice Evans from the Cwm. She made a lot of money out of welding together bits of old colliery machines and mining stuff and selling it to posh people who praised her work as “poignant and inspired”, “masterful and significant”. People in the village called it “rubbish”.
She positioned one of her favourite sculptures in her back garden. Dai the Grass, the local gardening guru, hangs his jacket on it when he mows her lawn. Ms. Lindqvist goes bananas when he does that.
Dai’s been doing gardens in Dan-y-Bont for as long as I can remember. Years back, his uncle died and left him a bit of money. Not a lot, but Dai invested in a brand new petrol mower to replace his rusty, old, manual, cylinder mower. He used to accept tea and fags as payment if you didn’t have the money and probably still does. He loves that petrol mower. He named it Rhian.