I've only recently returned from a trip to Wales, one of my regular visits to see my mother. I always find it difficult these days. The little bungalow where I lived from age twelve until I had an address of my own that I could refer to as 'home' is empty now - up for sale but not selling, caught in the housing slump. My mother lives less than half a mile away in sheltered housing and I just can't bring myself to tell her that everything that was left behind has been cleared now, because she like to think that if she ever changes her mind she could always pack up her things and go home. It's wishful thinking of course, she needs a lot of support these days - but hey! If I reach eighty-eight and want to believe in a few cheerful fantasies, don't disabuse me of these notions, please, just nod and let me get on with it.
When in Wales I finished reading October Sky by Homer H Hickam, which seemed to have a certain synchronicity for me at that moment in time. The book is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, a long way from Aberdare in the valleys of South Wales where I spent my earliest years and where its unmissable cemetery is the final resting place for generations of my ancestors. Mining was the lifeblood of both Coalwood and Aberdare, and my grandfather died from the same miners' lung disease that took Homer Hickam's father. However, October Sky is also about the young Homer's fascination with rockets and his boyish indignation at the Russians who are at that time (Sputnik, 1957) winning the Space Race. He and a bunch of friends decide to set the record straight and gradually their endeavours are taken up and proudly supported by the folk of Coalwood. It is everything its reviewers claim with all the clichéd words you'd expect to find on any cover for any rites of passage tale, "Absorbing ... wonderful ... funny ... painful ...
inspirational," however, for this book every one of these words is applicable and accurate.
It is a joy to read and it's not difficult to understand why it's been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. This book has a similar sense of mood and wonderment about it as that fine American twentieth-century classic does (and yes, I still feel bitter that anyone could give T K a M one star on Amazon! Grrr!). The book October Sky was originally published in 1998 as Rocket Boys and I believe it was also made into a movie, however, not one that I've ever seen or recall hearing about. My wife came home with the paperback a few years back - she'd picked it up for 50p out of the charity book box in the village-store/post office she passes every day on her way to work. She sees discovering great reads as a kind of vocation. Occasionally I'll exclaim when I've reached the end of my current book, "I don't know what to read next!" She generally asks a few pertinent questions about my mood at that particular moment in time, and then, almost unerringly, she'll produce something worth reading. I won't deny it, I am a
Cartref by the way is the Welsh word for Home.