Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 3

The summer passed all too quickly for Huw and his family. A week after the excitement of the World Cup had died down, the miners' holiday started. This was a long-established tradition when coal mines closed each year for the miners to take their annual two-week holiday, giving an opportunity to do essential maintenance while the mine was not operational. Although their family no longer had a direct connection with the mine, Huw's mother still took the family away at that time.

As usual, they were going to spend the holiday at his Taid and Nain's house in Pwllheli, in the north-west corner of Wales. He loved the beach at Pwllheli which was only a ten minute walk from his grandparents' home. Another treat was when his Taid would take him on the bus to Llanaelhaearn to climb to the dramatic peak of a small mountain range called The Rivals where they would visit the wonderful Iron Age fortress of Tre'r Ceiri (the Town of the Giants). The guidebooks were unanimous in awarding the site the accolade of best Iron Age monument in North Wales. This spot had a special significance for Huw as he and his father always made a point of taking some time out during their annual holiday in North Wales to visit this fort and its wonderful views of the Snowdonia Mountains and the whole of the Llŷn Peninsula. It was a special day too because it was 17 th August, his 14th birthday and was the reason why he had chosen the day to undertake his pilgrimage to the fortress.

Huw and his Taid sat contentedly on the edge of the fort eating a packed lunch that Nain had provided. The hillside looked out on a green landscape that was stunningly beautiful. The sun reflected off the southern side of the Llŷn Peninsula that reached out towards Ireland, causing them both to squint. They looked round the coast to Ynys Ennli or Bardsey Island, as it was known in English. Huw's father had told him stories of the Celtic saints who established a monastery on the island and how they would often be marooned for weeks on end because of the weather conditions and the dangerous currents that ran between the island and the mainland.

They tucked into their thick sandwiches of cold lamb and slices of Nain's homemade Bara Brith -- a type of fruitcake and a wonderful Welsh speciality which his Nain made to perfection. They washed it down with a bottle of pop and lay contentedly in the summer sun in companionable silence.

Huw told his Taid about the visits he and his father had made to this wonderful spot. He recounted how Elwyn would tell him stories and legends of the Welsh giants and of the Welsh Princes and their battles over territory. Most of all, he loved to hear about Owain Glyndŵr, last of the native-born Welsh princes. He sat quietly for some minutes and his eyes filled with tears.

"Are you missing your dad," asked Taid quietly.

"More than I can say." answered Huw with a sigh. "It's the little things like our walks together and the way he always asked about my rugby match when he got back from the pit that day." A tear trickled down his cheek and he burrowed his head into Taid's chest. Taid knew that no words would be any help in this situation, so he put his arm round Huw's shoulder and pulled him close.

"I still have lots of lovely memories, Taid. I'll never forget him."

Taid didn't trust himself to speak for several minutes and then said gruffly, "Come on lad, we need to get going or we'll miss the bus home."

The bus pulled into the stop at the foot of the mountain more or less on time. Grandfather and grandson moved to a seat in the middle of the bus to avoid sitting above the wheels which made a ride in the old vehicle extremely bumpy and uncomfortable. Taid put his arm around Huw's shoulder and he settled against his grandfather feeling more content than he had for a very long time. Ironically, he was not to know that this would be the last happy episode in his life for a considerable time. Within three months, his world would be turned upside down and his life would be changed forever.

Although he enjoyed the holiday, Huw was upset that there seemed to be tensions between his mam and his grandparents. He was aware that his mother had become reclusive and was prickly in the way she related to other people back home since his father's death. All the family attended Taid and Nain's chapel on Sundays but his mam argued with them because they didn't also attend the mid week prayer meetings and Bible studies. She also took exception to Taid's cherished pipe and the fact he would visit the pub for an evening drink once or twice a week. After the children were in bed, Huw heard their long and heated arguments.


On the family's return from North Wales things returned to normal and life became quieter for Huw. Most days he made himself a packed lunch and went walking in the hills. Once a week he would take the bus to Pontypridd and visit the Lido -- Pontypridd's open-air swimming pool -- to meet up with some of his friends from school. It was beginning to look rather run down as the fashion was now for new indoor leisure centres. The old outdoor swimming pools built before the war didn't get much attention and the changing facilities were now at best, primitive.

The lovely weather meant that he and his friends were able to spend several hours splashing each other and playing in the pool. Much of that time was spent trying to avoid the eagle eye of the huge and intimidating lifeguard who was very quick to blow his whistle when he spotted them taking a flying leap into the pool to bomb each other or when he saw them running round the edge of the pool. The boys knew that they were very lucky not to be thrown out on a number of occasions. What they didn't realise was that the lifeguard recalled his own childhood only too well. Providing the lads were not actually likely to hurt anyone, he was not going to be hard on them. He liked this particular group because although they were always pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, they always obeyed his instructions immediately. Of course, after a very few minutes they were back to pushing at the boundaries!

Although Huw thoroughly enjoyed swimming, the Lido presented one major hurdle for him -- the changing area. On the male side of the pool, there was a choice. There were small wooden cubicles equipped with a seat, a couple of hooks, and most importantly, a door. The alternative was the open-changing room that boys tended to use, leaving their clothes in heaps on one of the benches. His school friends tended to go straight for the open area to get changed. They were accustomed to seeing each other naked in the showers at school so it was of little consequence to them that they would change together. Huw, however, did not share their relaxed approach. He was painfully aware that he was a late developer and that he still had almost no body hair. His genitals were still those of a young boy rather than those of an adolescent.

The boys' normal arrangement was to meet together outside the Lido and go in together so that if, as sometimes happened at busy periods, swimming were limited to 60 or 90-minute sessions, they would all have the same amount of time to swim.

One Saturday, Huw caught the bus to the Lido and hurried across to the entrance where the other four lads who made up the regular swimming group were already impatiently waiting for him. He was frustrated because the bus had been delayed and the group always gave a hard time to any of their number who arrived late. The self-appointed leader of the group was Geraint Davies, star of Huw's rugby team. Geraint had charisma and knew it. His rugby status, good looks and being almost six feet tall made him the leader of any pack. The twins, Jim and Ron, blonde bombshells who never stopped talking, were fidgeting from foot to foot anxiously calling to Huw to hurry up. Most lads at school did not bother to identify which twin was which and called them both by their joint nickname, 'Double-up'. This annoyed Huw who had spotted that Jim had a small mole in front of his right ear and that he had a bigger smile than Ron. He felt that the boys deserved to be treated as individuals and it was very little trouble to identify them and use their given names. The final member of the group was Lewis Morgan: untidy, with a shock of uncombed black hair and easily the skinniest of their group, Lewis just grinned at Huw.

"Come on Huw, we thought you were never coming," said Geraint Davies pompously. "It's session swimming today and the session started at 10, so get a move on!"

"Sorry lads, the bus was late but it's only 5 past 10 now." Huw suddenly found himself speaking to their backs, as they had sprinted to the entrance to pay their one-shilling admittance price.

All four lads were already well into getting changed when Huw arrived in the changing area. He quickly caught them up as he had thought ahead and was already wearing his swimming trunks under his trousers, with his clean underwear wrapped in a towel ready for the end of the session. The four boys went out from the changing room into the brilliant sunshine and were quickly in the water playing games with one another. All of them were strong swimmers but like all teenage lads, their main interest was focused less on proper swimming and more on messing about, with the result that none of them were swimming full lengths of the pool. Their priority was given to splashing or ducking each other. Their antics attracted the usual amount of interest from the lifeguard who used his whistle with regularity when their clowning around became too boisterous. Still, the boys survived the whole session and the lifeguard gave three long blasts of his whistle as the signal that the 90 minutes swimming session had ended. The lads had already decided that they were beginning to look like wrinkled prunes and climbed out to get dressed without the usual cheeky insults to the lifeguard, which he always took in good part.

Pontypridd Lido's facilities did not extend to hot showers and so the boys briefly stood under the cold shower to rinse off the chlorine and hurried in to get changed. Conversation flowed easily as the lads took off their swimming costumes to dry themselves. Huw had turned his back and was desperately trying to get his underpants on when he slipped on the wet floor, lost his balance and fell flat on his back.

Huw's mishap was greeted with gales of laughter and pointing to Huw's penis, Geraint said with a roar of laughter, "What do you call that then, Huw? An acorn?" Huw was mortified and quickly got up to finish dressing.

"That's enough, Geraint," said Lewis quickly. "It comes later for some of us; mine only grew six months ago, so leave him alone"

Huw smiled gratefully to Lewis and the incident was forgotten as the lads walked into the centre of town to walk round the Pontypridd Saturday market stalls. As usual, the boys didn't buy anything and, as usual, the boys ended up at the local Wimpy bar for a hamburger. Wimpy burgers were a great feature of British life in the 1960s although it is hard to understand why. The burgers were grey and rubbery and the chips were generally lukewarm at best. It was to be another eight years before the Golden Arches were seen in the United Kingdom and even longer before McDonald's came to Wales. The boys each spent their customary four shillings on the Wimpy Burger, chips and a cup of frothy coffee. After a pleasant wind-down, they said goodbye to one another and made their way home.

Lewis and Huw walked together to the bus stop and chatted companionably on the way. Lewis was concerned that Huw may still be upset by Geraint's tactlessness. "Geraint didn't mean anything by that at the pool. He just opens his mouth without thinking. He has about as much awareness of other people's feelings as a cabbage."

"It's okay really," said Huw. "I'm just embarrassed that I'm so slow to grow and my voice hasn't broken properly yet." He paused, "Was it really only six months since you had some growth --" he nodded his head towards Geraint, "-- down there?"

"Yep, like you, I was beginning to think it would never happen and then just one day I noticed some hair growing down below; two or three weeks later my voice started going all over the place and within three months mine looked like everybody else's."

"Except mine of course," said Huw laughing.

At that moment, Huw's bus appeared and the boys quickly said goodbye to one another. As the bus pulled away, Lewis shouted to Huw, who was still on the bus platform, "You wait! By Christmas your todger will be huge." Huw blushed scarlet and quickly hurried to find a seat. During his 25-minute bus ride home he smiled to himself as he went over the events of the day and realised he had a good friend in Lewis.

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