by Huw Jones
Huw, however, was hurting. He missed the warmth of Tomos and Lewis's friendships and found English southerners in general and those in Bath Road School in particular, cold and aloof. That depressed him. He began to withdraw into himself and his work started to suffer again. Valerie was aware that something was amiss. He had become very moody at home and despite her best efforts to get him to talk about it, he would not be drawn. She knew that teenagers were prone to moodiness and raided her library shelves for books on dealing with the problems teenagers face.
Unknown to Huw, she made an appointment with Mr Evans to discuss the situation and she arrived at the school mid-morning one Wednesday to meet with him. Mr Evans greeted Valerie and shook hands. "Good morning Miss Young, I'm pleased to see you again although I suspect we share a common concern for how things are going with Huw."
"I'm really worried about him," she said. "Things started so well and he really seemed to be coping with the work but he doesn't seem to have made any friends at all here."
"To be honest," said Mr Evans, "I've spoken with a number of my colleagues and although he was devouring the work in the first month or so, gradually things have declined and they're going from bad to worse. We are all sure that he is quite capable of doing the work but he is increasingly withdrawn and none of us can get anywhere near him."
"That's more or less what is happening at home," said Valerie. "He was a delight to have at home but now he hardly speaks and he spends all evening in his room."
Mr Evans thought for a moment, "I think we would both agree that this stems from the dreadful things that have happened to him and it is very clear that he hasn't really settled here. I've noticed that he is always on his own. It's very strange because I think he's a very personable youngster."
Valerie hesitated, "He certainly was personable at first but now he is moody, he snaps at me and avoids any contact if he can. I do understand that he has faced a lot of hardship but I don't find myself qualified to help him. One of the things I know is an issue is that he is missing Wales and he finds Reading cold and unfriendly."
"Hmm. I wonder if I might suggest a possible solution," said Mr Evans. "It's proving very difficult to give him his Welsh lessons during school hours because of timetable conflicts. How would you feel if I were to invite him to my home twice a week after school for a lesson and a meal with my wife and children? We speak Welsh and English at home and it might help with his homesickness. We even have a word for it in Welsh, we call it hiraeth . It'll be good for my twin daughters to speak Welsh to someone other than my wife and I."
Valerie was delighted. "That's an excellent idea and I think it could really help. You might be able to draw him out a little bit about the things that he's struggling with. Otherwise, I think we're going to have to get professional help." She hesitated and continued, "To be honest, if things don't change I think I will have to admit to Children's services in Wales that I am out of my depth and that his continuing to stay with me might not be in his best interests."
"Well, I'll invite him when I see him later today," said Mr Evans, "and you can confirm it when he gets home."
Huw was overjoyed with the suggested arrangement and wanted to start immediately. Mr Evans explained that he needed to square things with his wife first. He suggested that they get together on Mondays and Wednesdays as those days best suited his commitments.
The following Monday, he arrived by bike at Mr and Mrs Evans house which was between the school and his own home. Mr Evans had driven home and so Huw was not surprised when the door was opened by his teacher. He followed Mr Evans into the living room where he was introduced to the rest of the family. There was an attractive blonde lady in her early 30s and two beautiful identical blonde girls, obviously twins aged 4 or 5 years.
"This is my wife, Janet and the twins are Angharad and Betsan and while you are here you can call me Gwyn." The twins both giggled shyly and hid behind their mother. "Haddie and Betsan don't speak very much English so you will have to speak Welsh with them. We try to use both languages equally in the home but Janet and I tend to use Welsh most of the time. It will be good for them to hear you speaking both languages."
In the following weeks, he lived for Mondays and Wednesdays when he spent the late afternoon and evening with Gwyn, Janet and, of course, the girls. They adored him and he loved them in return, showing them huge affection. He spotted that Angharad had a large cluster of freckles on one side of her forehead while Betsan had only a sprinkling which enabled him to tell them apart. The girls loved it that he always called them by the correct name. They were tired of being asked, "Which one are you?" at their new school. There was something about being around the twins that he really liked but he couldn't explain what it was. It was more than the fact the girls were enchanting, he just liked it that they were twins. Janet regularly made a fuss of him by making his favourite delicacies from home, Welsh cakes and Bara Brith. She was a little disconcerted when the first time she presented a plate of Welsh cakes, his eyes filled with tears. He explained, "Mam used to make them for us regularly and they made me think of her in hospital back home."
The lessons were something of a joke. Huw's knowledge of Welsh grammar and vocabulary quickly showed Gwyn Evans that he didn't need to teach him anything more. "Huw bach, I don't think we need to continue these lessons because there's nothing more I need to teach you." Janet was alarmed at the expression of consternation that appeared on Huw's face and quickly realised what the issue was. "No, no cariad, we still want you to come on Mondays and Wednesdays to spend the afternoon and evening with us. The twins would never let us hear the end of it!"
"Thank you so much, Gwyn," said Huw with relief. "I knew that I wasn't learning anything from the lessons but I wasn't going to say anything because our time together is the only thing that I look forward to and I wouldn't want to give that up."
"And you won't have to," smiled Gwyn.
Sandra kept him up to date regarding the situation with Mr Salisbury's trial. He had been remanded in custody after a brief hearing in the Magistrates Court. The police and Children's Services had done a thorough investigation of all the placements with Mr and Mrs Salisbury and a disturbing number of incidents of violence had come to light. None were as serious as Huw and Tomos's assault but a consistent pattern emerged. He would beat boys for what he considered infringements of his rules, usually related to his narrow interpretation of the Bible.
Huw was warned he might be called on to testify in the Crown Court when the case came to trial. He was given a date a month away but, in the event, he had a call from Sandra to say that Mr Salisbury had agreed to plead guilty to all charges in the light of the overwhelming evidence and he would not be needed. Closure came a month later with a phone call from Sandra to tell him that Salisbury had been sentenced to five years in prison. Huw didn't know how he felt about that. In some ways he would have liked to have seen a sentence four times that which was given, but he was not vindictive.
"The important thing is that he'll never have any access to children again," said Sandra. "And when he appeared in court for sentencing he had two black eyes, a badly split lip and his arm was in a sling. Seems the word got out he likes to hit children and other prisoners take a dim view of that."
Back at school, life went on much as before. Huw was largely ignored by the other boys who continued to irritate him by calling him Taffy when they bothered to address him at all. The interludes with Gwyn and Janet made all the difference, however. His schoolwork started to improve steadily and Valerie found him far easier to live with. Unfortunately, the sense of loneliness never seemed to leave him and he was a solitary figure around the corridors of the school. The school library became a haven for him where he was able to spend every spare moment reading and doing homework.
Walking along a corridor towards the library during morning break one day, he noticed Adrian Crowe, a well-known school bully, knock over a smaller lad and scatter his books around. The bully carried on walking, pleased with his 'brave' actions. Huw went across and helped pick up the books.
"Twmffat!" shouted the boy in frustration and anger. Huw was amazed to hear someone call out 'idiot!' in Welsh.
"Wyt ti'n siarad Cymraeg?" asked Huw. (Do you speak Welsh?)
" Ydw. Dw i'n wreiddiol o ardal Caernarfon, " the boy replied. (Yes, I'm originally from the Caernarfon area.)
The boy introduced himself as Gareth Williams. Huw suddenly remembered Mr Evans' suggestion to seek out Gareth Williams months before.
He took in his appearance; he was a couple of inches shorter than Huw, making him about 5'6" and he was very slight, almost skinny. The lads continued their conversation until the bell sounded to mark the end of break time. They agreed to meet at lunchtime in the playground as they both brought packed lunches to school. Although he was familiar with Gareth by sight, Huw had not been aware of his Welsh roots, simply because he had spoken to almost nobody outside the classes he took. Mind you, with a name like Gareth Williams he should have known! Huw and Gareth never stopped talking, in Welsh, for the entire hour and a quarter of the lunch period.
As they talked, it emerged they shared several things in common. They both yearned to go back to their roots in Wales. They were both lonely and neither had any friends at school or elsewhere in Reading. In addition, Gareth had been subject to constant bullying, about which the school took no action, despite his parents complaining to the headmaster on more than one occasion. Huw learned that he lived on the south side of Reading in an area called Whitley Wood and as the weekend was looming, they arranged to spend Saturday together, meeting up in the centre of town.
Huw woke with excitement on Saturday morning and after a shower and a quick breakfast, he gave Valerie a peck on the cheek and said he would be back by teatime. She was thrilled to see a sparkle in his eyes which she had not seen for many weeks. He rushed out the door to the trolleybus stop nearby. He enjoyed travelling by trolleybus -- it was fast and because it was powered by electricity from overhead wires, it was silent and free of the clouds of fumes that accompanied the diesel buses he had used in the past and they also reminded him of home. He was familiar with them from Cardiff.
The journey to the town centre took only 20 minutes and he crossed Broad Street to walk down St Mary's Butts. That was where Gareth's trolleybus would arrive from the south. In fact, Gareth had already arrived and was standing outside the Regent Cafe, their arranged meeting place.
They greeted one another rather awkwardly. A hug wasn't normal for boys and a handshake was far too formal. They settled for just grinning at one another. "Come on in, Huw bach. This place has the best ice cream in the world," said Gareth excitedly. The boys sat on the wall of St Lawrence's Church licking their sixpenny cornets with a supremely satisfied expression on their faces. Huw decided that Gareth had not been exaggerating when he talked about the quality of the Regent's ice cream.
"Do you know your way round the town centre here, Huw," asked Gareth.
"No it's all new to me, why don't you take me for a tour."
When they finished their ice creams, Gareth led him along some of Reading's busiest streets. They walked past an imposing statue of Queen Victoria with her back firmly set towards the town hall and museum buildings. 'I'm not surprised,' thought Huw, 'they are really ugly buildings!'
Behind the town hall and police station were some beautiful formal gardens. "These are the Forbury Gardens; they used to be the gardens of the old Reading Abbey."
The centrepiece of the Gardens was a huge lion. "Notice anything about that lion? The sculptor obviously knew nothing about the anatomy of lions because apparently they don't walk like that."
Gareth prattled on with various facts and figures as they walked from the gardens into the ruins of the old Abbey. He pointed out the walls of Reading jail and asked if Huw knew about its most famous occupant. Huw had no idea.
"It was Oscar Wilde. He was in here for -," he faltered and dropped his eyes. "- for having sex with another man. He wrote a poem called 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' about this place when he was released." Huw could see he was embarrassed by this so did not make any comment but wondered why he had reacted in that way.
The boys walked the short distance to the River Thames and then along the promenade by the river. Huw was much happier in these natural surroundings. He didn't care to be around traffic and buildings. They relaxed as they lay out on the grass in the warm sun. Huw suddenly realised he had forgotten to bring any lunch, but fortunately Gareth had planned ahead. He had remembered that they hadn't arranged anything for lunch and had asked his mother to do packed sandwiches and an apple for both them.
After the break to eat, the boys continued to walk alongside the river watching the pleasure craft and the children swimming at the water's edge until they finally arrived at Reading's other River Thames crossing, Caversham Bridge. They walked back into the town centre and, looking up, were surprised to see on a shop clock that it was already 4:30. The day had flown by and both of them would have been pushed to recall a happier day in recent years. They reluctantly said goodbye to one another back at St Mary's Butts and arranged to meet for lunch at school on Monday.
Over the next months, their friendship developed steadily and Huw spent a few weekends at Gareth's house, invited by his parents, David and Beth Williams. Sometimes during the week, Gareth would come home with Huw and he would stay in Valerie's spare room. Huw began to sense that he was leaving the past behind and he was starting to feel some optimism about his future. This new-found optimism and positive attitude helped him to take tentative steps towards making friends among his classmates. Although Reading was no substitute for his beautiful homeland of Wales, living there had at last begun to feel less like a prison sentence.
Gareth, it turned out, was a railway enthusiast and he dragged him all over south-east England to see steam trains on lines that were shortly to close courtesy of Dr Beeching's cuts, or lines where the steam trains would shortly be replaced by smelly diesels. Much to his surprise, he found Gareth's enthusiasm infectious and he began to share the hobby as an equal. Finally, he mused, his life really had turned a corner.
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