How Green Was My Duffel Coat

part 4

By Peter S. O’Neil

           

Welcome to Dan-y-Bont. First time here? It means ‘Under the Bridge’ and its name comes from the old railway viaduct that spans the valley. It’s a typical village, fictional mind you, hidden away in the Welsh Valleys, one of many that were born in the boom of the South Wales Coalfield during the Industrial Revolution and all but died due to the demise of the coal industry in the mid 1980’s. Miraculously, Dan-y-Bont has survived, albeit grimly, by its fingernails, thanks mainly to the spirit of its people, those who have lived and died here and have passed on its inimitable essence down through the generations.

We’ve spent a little time here already, flitting back and fore through the years between Way-Back-When and Now-This-Minute and we’ve met a few of Dan-y-Bont’s notable characters, including a few named Dai and a handful of Rhians but nowhere near all of them. If you’re ready and willing, I’d like to introduce a few more. Yes? Come along then…

I see you looking at the old Police Station? Yes, that’s Abigail Lindqvist out the front. She lives there now. Fine figure of a woman. I wouldn’t argue with her. Sculptress, she is. Very talented, so they say, ‘they’ being the experts, of course. I’m no expert myself but I’ve seen some horrendous examples of welding in my time and Abigail Lindqvist’s work is right up there with them.

            Before Abigail? Yes, it served as a community library and drug abuse help centre. The Book-worm and Maggot Centre, some called it. But it wasn’t for long, what with the lack of public funding. No, there’s no library here now but there’s always been one in Cwm. Funny you should mention it, actually, because it brings to mind another little story involving a Dai and a Rhian and there was definitely no love between these two.

            Dai was a conductor, a ‘clippy’, on the buses, so you’d think he’d be known as Dai the Clippy. Yes? No. Because that would have confused him with Dai the Chippy, the carpenter. There had already been enough confusion regarding Dai the Chippy and Dai Chippy, the fish-and-chip-shop man, and no-one wanted any more of that nonsense. So, Dai the bus conductor was called Dai the Ticket. (During the national bus workers’ strike of 1970, he was also briefly known as Dai the Picket.)

            The Rhian in this little snippet is Rhian Lloyd, a quiet, introverted young woman who went to Cwm on the bus every day to visit the library there. Dai, as he punched the hole in the dull green paper ticket, would always ask:

            “Going to the library, Rhian?” which then shortened to simply: “Library, Rhian?”

            So, Rhian Lloyd became known in the valley as ‘Library Rhian’.

            All well and good then! And then came the national bus workers’ strike which resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs nationwide and, sadly, bus conductors became a thing of the past. Poor Dai! Around the same time, Rhian’s father’s health took a down-turn and that was the end of his days down the pit. Coupled with all the mine closures in the area and the whole ‘centralisation of the valleys’ issue, it was a bleak time. Jobs in the valleys were scarce and, outside of the valleys, in the towns and cities, the situation wasn’t a lot better.

            So, when old Mr. Jenkins, known popularly as Library Ian, the librarian in Cwm, reached retirement age and stamped his last return date, there was an unusual amount of interest in the vacancy. Of course, Library Rhian was the stand-out favourite, with Dai the Ticket a close second.

            There were hundreds of applicants which the Cwm Town Council whittled down to ten. These ten were invited to the Cwm library for an interview. On the morning of the interviews, Dai the Ticket and Library Rhian found themselves on the bus stop together. They exchanged “Good mornings” before Rhian took a book from her handbag and began to read. Dai smoked a fag and smiled to himself.

            When the Number 38 bus to Treorchy pulled up and Dai the Ticket jumped on board and waved, smiling, from the window, Rhian was a little perplexed. She knew that Dai had applied for the library job and also that he had been on the short-list for the interviews. Perhaps Dai had changed his mind about the job and was off for the day to Treorchy? Who knew?

            Well, doubly perplexed she was, five minutes later, when the next bus came around the corner. It was the Number 38 to Treorchy. Again! She stuffed her book back in her bag and spoke to the driver. Where was the Number 14 bus to Cwm? Well, he told her, the Number 14 had already gone, hadn’t it? No, Rhian said, it hadn’t. Well, it must have, the driver said, otherwise Dai the Ticket would still be waiting. He’s got an interview in the library. I know, Rhian said, so have I, but Dai got on the Number 38 to Treorchy five minutes ago. Well, the driver said, this is the Number 38 to Treorchy and I should know, being the driver and all, so you must be mistaken. This went on for a bit until the driver asked Rhian if she wanted to go to Treorchy instead because he had to get a move on. Rhian didn’t want to go to Treorchy at all. Off he went, leaving Rhian at the bus stop, staring at the mysterious graffiti.

            Rhian was beside herself with worry. If there was no bus, there would be no interview. She waited a while longer but no Number 14 bus to Cwm arrived.

Crying her eyes out, she was on her way home when along came Timmy and Tommy Medwyn, pulling a gambo. A gambo? Well, it’s like a home-made cart, with old pram wheels (usually fished out of a river) fixed to either end of a plank, a rope to steer, and half a wooden crate nailed on for a seat. What’s up with you, Library Rhian? asks Tommy. Rhian tells him she’s missed the bus and can’t get to Cwm for her interview. Well, without so much as a word Timmy and Tommy belted away, leaving the gambo with Rhian. Two minutes later, they’re back with their bikes. Hop in, says Timmy, pointing at the gambo. Rhian sits in the half-crate seat, Tommy cuts the steering rope, they tie each end to the backs of their bikes and they’re off!

According to Timmy and Tommy, Rhian screamed all the way from Dan-y-Bont to Cwm. Mind you, it’s hardly surprising, because they took the short-cut over the mountain. It’s little more than a wide trail which the farmers used to drive their livestock over to the next valley. It winds and turns, rises and dips, cuts through muddy ditches and crosses mountain streams. And that’s just on the way up. Once it crests the mountain, the trail drops steeply and snakes down the other side in a series of hair-raising, hair-pin bends.

Well, Timmy and Tommy Medwyn were no strangers to the trail and, even towing Library Rhian in the gambo, made it over to Cwm in record time and pulled up outside the library with time to spare, time which Rhian needed to put herself tidy and freshen up a little, having lost her breakfast somewhere on the descent. Suffice to say, Rhian then aced the interview and, a week later, was told that she got the job.

   Down in the Bonters’ Rugby Club, Dai the Ticket sat in a quiet corner with his old mate, Huw, a driver off the buses. In low tones, they reminisced about their fool-proof plan: how Huw had changed the number on his bus from 14 to 38 before driving into Dan-y-Bont and then changed it back again after he’d picked up Dai the Ticket; how they’d laughed as Dai waved to Rhian, sitting in the bus shelter with a slightly confused look on her face; and how they would have got away with it if it wasn’t for them Medwyn kids!

Years later, Dai the Ticket did get a part-time position at the Dan-y-Bont Community Library and Help Centre. It was a case of killing two birds with one stone, really, because Dai was a regular there and not for the reading either. Funny thing though, it was Rhian’s idea.

***

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