Saturday 26 November 2016

Two Worlds

The world was divided. 
Below the terrace were two railway lines: the top line and the main line. Then across the River Ebbw, black as night with coal dust, lay tinplate works, iron works, chemical works, the Prince of Wales colliery- scene of one of the nation’s worst mine disasters in 1878. Then came the derelict canal and yet another railway. The language of the valley was English. There Welsh natives mingled with English, Irish and Scots immigrants, working in mines or heavy industry. Little grew and shadows were long. 
Yet above the top line, once an old tramway, the grass was green, the hillside was swathed in trees and sheep grazed on the tops.  The language was Welsh, and the land was fiercely its own. I was sure that there lived the Tylwyth Teg, the ‘fair family’ of small, beautiful, fairy folk, blessing those that left them gifts of milk or food, and tricking those who were not kind or not generous.
To visit the shops we would cross the railways and river and venture into a hobbled, cobbled landscape, painted with coal dust and chapel frowns, and speaking English. But behind the terrace was ‘the mountain’: Mynyddislwyn. Once a year we would take our picnic and the whole family would climb up to Sychpant Farm for the sheep dog trials. There, in the clean air and the bright fields the language was Welsh.
Even the sheep only understood Welsh sheep dogs.

Monday 14 November 2016

Pont y Mynachlawg

Cwmcarn had a handful of small shops that we would visit twice a week. We would walk down the lane almost as far as the station, then turn left over the River Ebbw at Chapel Bridge. The bridge was once called Pont y Mynachlawg (Monastery Bridge) and it was thought that a monastery lay to the north, on the site of Chapel Farm. There could once be seen the remains of a chapel: an echo of the quiet days before the revolutions of church, state and industry tore the old world apart.

The paper shop was near the top of Chapel Farm Terrace, a long, cobbled street. When it was raining the cobbled gleamed, the street seemed endless and you were always soaked before you got to the end. Then it was up over the black, unmoving canal and another short terrace to the corner shop on the main street. There I could get a copy of ‘The Eagle’ which met with parental approval, or ‘The Beano’ which did not. 
The main road stretched down towards Risca and Newport one way, and up towards Newbridge and Crumlin the other. It was flanked by seemingly endless rows of identical terrace houses, only occasionally breached by the dark, secret doors of a billiard hall or a public house. The most common sound was the wild shriek of a steam engine’s whistle on one of the three lines up the valley, just occasionally challenged by the irreverent hooting of a Western Welsh bus. Somehow it felt safer on the other side of the valley, protected by the coal-black river and the ghosts of the monks.