Sunday 1 May 2016

Number One

Number One was an end-of-terrace cottage on the East side of Mynyddislwyn, looking down on an industrial valley. The cottage probably dated about 1880. Nanna lived there all her life. By the front door, which was never used, there was the front room. The room was only used to mark birth, marriage or death, the curtains were always pulled, it was holy, dark and cold. Later I remembered the words of Dylan Thomas’ Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard: “Before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes.”
The living room had a large central table, two small windows looking down the valley, and a coal fire. At the back was the kitchen with a great black range and a door to the yard outside. There Pot nobly slept on a camp bed when the whole family visited.
There was a tap over a stone trough in the high-walled yard, which sufficed for daily washing. No one complained about the cold water. That was just the way it was for everybody. For the weekly bath water was heated in kettles and pans on the great black range and then poured into a shared tin bath. Pot went first, then Nanna, then the rest in a ranking determined by age and gender.
Overlooking the valley, on the most unpromising ground, Pot nurtured a fine array of fruit bushes and Nanna kept chickens. By then I had a little sister, Christine, and we would help feed the chickens and creep into Pot’s beloved garden to eat the blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries.
The toilet was ‘up the mountain’! We would scuttle through the yard, skirt the coal shed and climb steep stone steps. There we would sit on a wooden seat in a small sentry box. A large gap under the door ensured that the wind always whistled around your ankles. In the door a quatrefoil opening allowed you to gaze almost all the way to Newport. On a length of string were threaded ripped-up pages of the Daily Mirror. When visitors came, Nanna would quickly put some ‘proper’ toilet paper there instead.
In this tiny cottage, originally the property of my grandmother’s family, lived Pot, Nellie, and their seven children: my father Daniel, the eldest and called John by all but his family, Eileen, Christine, Sheila, Clive, Gerald and Geraldine.
One night as I lay in bed it dawned on me. Pot had come from Ireland, just like Twrch Trwyth. He had seven children, just like Twrch Trwyth. The coincidence was too much. Perhaps, on dark nights he was Twrch Trwyth. I clutched my bedclothes around me and gazed through the starlit pane to see any sign of him coming or going.

There was a wild shriek, and a black engine pulled black coal into the black night.