Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 2

The culture of the Valleys dictated that men were macho, hard, cynical and crude, and prepared to follow the herd. There was normally no place for individuality but Huw was not prepared to live like that. His contemporaries at the Grammar School delighted in making crude jokes and boasted endlessly of their girlfriends and sexual conquests. He was a late bloomer sexually and he was just starting to experience that surge of hormones that was subtly transforming his body and his voice from a child to a young man. Huw would be 14 on 17 th August, making him one of the youngest boys in his class. Among his classmates, he was late arriving into the world and later than virtually all of them in arriving at puberty. In reality, the whole subject of sex was not a matter to which he had given much thought or attention.

Now, everything was beginning to change. His body was misbehaving badly and had become a source of embarrassment. It often necessitated him carrying his books in front of him as he walked around the corridors of his school to hide his embarrassment. Even worse, he found himself doing things that he had been taught in his Sunday school class were sinful. 'The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,' he was told, 'and must not be polluted by sinful thoughts and deeds.' After a very short time, Huw gave up the battle of keeping himself pure and decided to be a happy heathen and to enjoy his solitary pleasure times in bed. That presented quite an internal battle for Huw. Many of the values that had been drummed into him by his grandparents and parents, by Chapel ministers and his Sunday school teachers still seemed important. They played a part in his life, at least in the way he interacted with other people. He had grown up hearing stories like the Good Samaritan and countless Bible accounts of selfless giving for other people and he was reluctant to let them go. His struggle was with the conflict in his mind between the loving, caring and non-judgmental Jesus of the New Testament and the vehement condemnation and denunciation of people expressed by the Parchedig from the pulpit.

However, despite his capitulation in that intimate area of his life, Huw was clear that he didn't want to copy his school friends and their casual sexual relationships with girlfriends even if he could find one -- or even wanted one. He was blissfully unaware that almost all the boast and bravado expressed by those lads was far more in aspiration than in reality. Few had done as much as get a hand inside a girl's bra and even fewer had progressed to a further stage. At this point, Huw wasn't particularly attracted to girls and he felt no need to join the competition to brag of conquests.


Although Huw tended to prefer his own company, in the summer he regularly spent time with a few of his rugby friends at the Lido -- Pontypridd's open-air swimming pool. His natural shyness meant that he was always in the background among his peers and not one of the natural leaders. He would have liked to get closer to one or two of the lads in his class and wondered if that would help fill the huge void in him left by Elwyn's death. However, living nine miles north of the school made spending time with friends in the evenings and at weekends quite difficult. Huw's mother did not have a car and it was a 25-minute bus ride into Pontypridd.

More than that, however, deep within him was another painful issue which entirely complicated the picture for him. One of the things he missed most from his father was the familiarity of touch which they had both enjoyed. Elwyn was a tactile person and was free with his hugs and affectionate touch. Huw had such happy memories of the times when they would go fishing together and his father would walk along with his arm across Huw's shoulders and Huw's arm around his father's waist. He recalled walking along riverbanks, their faces stroked by overhanging weeping willows, with the only sounds those of birds and the gentle lapping of water against the banks. Huw would have enjoyed contact and maybe even a hug from his friends, but he was afraid to go there as that would open a frightening can of worms.

As a well-read boy, he had learned about the issue of homosexuality, as it had been much in the news earlier that year. A Parliamentary Bill to decriminalise homosexuality in Britain had failed to be passed because Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, had called a general election. It would be the following year before homosexuality was decriminalised for adults over the age of 21. At his school in the mid-1960s, there was little awareness of the concept of homosexuality as it was simply not on most boys' radar. As yet 'gay', 'homophobia', and 'Civil Partnerships' were expressions that belonged in the future. The only words in general use were 'queer', 'pansy' or 'fairy' and usually had associations with dirty old men in grubby raincoats preying on young boys in playgrounds.

A new radio show had started the previous year on the BBC Light Programme station called 'Round the Horne'. It was full of double-entendres and risqué jokes and Huw loved it. He found two of the characters particularly funny: Julian and Sandy were a very effeminate pair who made suggestive comments that were always interpreted differently from their intention. Huw never really understood the intimacy of their real nature. So, confused and hurting, he desperately missed close male close contact while not making any association between it and sexuality. Indeed, for him it was simple… he missed that intimacy with his father and sadly, he felt there was nobody with whom he could discuss such an issue.

What contributed greatly to Huw's insecurity was an incident while staying in North Wales with his father's parents, his Taid and Nain as he called them in Welsh. He had been invited to go down to the beach in Pwllheli by his grandparents' next-door neighbour John, whom he'd known since they were toddlers together. They were joined by John's school friend David who, like both other lads, was 11 years old and by David's older brother Jacob who was 15. It was only a short walk to the beach from the house and to save time, they had changed in their own homes and were already wearing swimming costumes under their clothes ready for the beach. They established themselves on the edge of the sand dunes above the shingle beach. Opposite, out in the bay was the strange tripod structure that John told Huw was a target for the RAF Bombing School at nearby Penyberth. Huw thought it looked more like something from 'War of the Worlds'. For an hour or so, they splashed about in the water until they started to get cold.

Huw had become aware that Jacob was watching him. He saw him staring each time he glanced in the older boy's direction. Four years older, Jacob was a good head taller than the other lads were and he was very overweight. He was a redhead with dirty greasy hair and was badly afflicted with acne. As the boys started to dry themselves and get dressed to go home, Jacob came over to Huw and said, "Let me help you." Huw was rather startled but was flattered by the older boy's interest and acquiesced nervously. Jacob quickly dried Huw's hair, back, chest and arms. Before Huw could react, Jacob pulled down his swimming trunks and started to dry his bottom. Huw was mortified and blushed furiously although he said nothing. Things then went from bad to worse. Jacob started to 'dry' Huw's genitals. After a few seconds, he put his hand inside the towel and started to fondle Huw's testicles and penis. Fortunately, Jacob was crouching down so Huw pushed him hard on his chest so he fell flat on his back. Huw quickly pulled up his swimming trunks, grabbed his clothes and ran home, much to the confusion of the other boys. He never spoke of the incident to his parents or to John and it was never mentioned again, but it scarred him badly.


Despite their better educational opportunities, few of the boys at Huw's school had dreams to move outside the Valleys. Although they would escape a destiny of being coalminers, unlike many of their non- grammar school contemporaries, many would end up working in local government, working in white-collar jobs but still within the locality. The close-knit relationships of the families and the years of living as self-contained communities meant that the Valleys culture met all their needs. That is, except for those like Huw with enquiring minds who wanted to know about the wider world outside South Wales. Huw found it hard to find any points of engagement with his school friends because he didn't identify with their narrow horizons and limited interests, except in one sporting area -- that of rugby union. He easily qualified for the school rugby First XV in the position of hooker. His ability to throw accurately and quickly at the lineout and his excellent ball control in the scrum made up for his stature being smaller and lighter than most of the team. He enjoyed the games and the trips to matches at local schools and colleges who competed in their league but once he left the rugby field or the team bus, he simply had nothing in common with the other lads and they chatted within their own cliques.

Huw followed the progress of local rugby club sides and even got down to the Cardiff Arms Park Stadium once or twice a year for an international match. Remembering Huw's love of the sport, some of his father's old mining colleagues made a point of taking him with them on their beery outings to international matches in Cardiff. Together they would join in with the inspirational singing of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (the Welsh national anthem) and hymns like Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah and Calon Lân . It was ironic really; the volume and the fervour of singing spoke of the great religious revival in Wales that had taken place only 60 years previously, although only a small proportion of the 30,000 people present now actually attended any church or chapel.

"Why did you have to die, Dad?" Huw asked out loud, as he rose to his feet and started to walk back down the hillside. The sky was beginning to look threatening and he didn't want to be drenched if it started to rain.

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