Friday 1 April 2016


My grandparents’ cottage was in Cwmcarn, in a mining valley north of Newport. There we visited every year, a steam-powered pilgrimage on the Great Western Railway, for motor cars were the preserve of the wealthy. Sometimes I spent all Summer there.

Nanna and Grandpa would meet us at Cwmcarn station, and we would struggle on foot the half mile to the end of the lane, a ragged convoy laden with suitcases and bags and inappropriate headgear. The lane crossed the railway line, and then ran beside an old tramway to York Terrace. Then the narrow road dived through a bridge under the tramway and curved across the little valley of the Nant y Crochan. Then a tall bank appeared. We climbed up the final yards of unmade path to 1 Beech Terrace.

My grandparents were Irish immigrants. Nellie was ample, warm and welcoming. She was born in about 1900. Pot was tall and silent. He was known to all as ‘Black’ Pot. He worked as a ganger on the Great Western Railway. When he strode up from the line at the end of the day his face was indeed black with soot and sweat.

Pot’s given name, Edward, was reserved by his wife for moments of high drama. The clarion call “Edwaard!” was not to be ignored, it had both pitch and volume that could compete with the whistle of a steam engine on the line outside, warning the gangers of approaching danger.

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