Despite having lived elsewhere for the lion's portion of my life, Wales remains the place I think of as my spiritual home. My son Tom recently showed a blog I'd written about my late mother to an acquaintance of his who also comes from my town of origin, ie Aberdare in the Cynon Valley. This person went on to show the piece to an old family friend of hers who still continues to live there. Some days later, Tom enthusiastically reported back to me that this elderly gentleman could recall playing football with my father. Dad was thirty-three years old by the time I was born, so his footballing days were already behind him. Being a man of quiet modesty, it was in fact only through the testimonies of others that I found out what a truly superb footballer he'd been. You know how it is, as a teenager when someone whispers in your ear about how talented your father is, you tend to instantly discount it as being nothing more than the ramblings of old men. However, when every single contemporary of your father's goes on for the next forty or so years telling you how fantastically well he played; how, if he'd been born into a different age they have no doubt he'd have given the footballing heroes of later generations, the Bests and Beckhams a good run for their money - I guess you finally start paying
Unfortunately whatever aspirations Dad may have had in the sporting line were disastrously hampered (like a lot of careers for men and women of that generation) by unwanted interference from 'A' list despotic madman, Adolf Hitler. My grandfather had fought in the First World War, while my other Grandad was busy cutting coal underground, and my father joined up for the second because he felt he ought to. However, he wasn't the sort of man who would have gone along with it arbitrarily; he had strong religious convictions and serious doubts about killing his fellow man. Dad's personal opinion of war: "A complete waste of time". I don't think by this that he meant that either of these wars had been necessarily avoidable, just literally that - a waste of time - and of human life of course!
My father was always spoken of with great respect by those who knew him best, the men and women of his own generation. When Dad and his 'gang' had gone off to war, Mr Morse, the minister at their chapel Ebenezer in Trecynon, who I recall with a faint memory and a warm glow, wouldn't allow anyone for the duration of the war to sit in the upstairs pew where they habitually sat, which remained vacant throughout. If anyone attempted to sit there, Mr Morse would explain, "I'm very sorry but you can't sit there because that's where the boys sit". This line was maintained until the boys came back; and they all did.
For a man who left school at fourteen my father was remarkably well-read. He was naturally sharp-witted and tended to apply a natural psychology when it came to dealing with his fellow man. Nobody else in the chapel understood why Danny Johnson's Sunday school class comprising of several of the 'naughtiest boys' was always at full capacity and the best-behaved of all the groups. Years later it was confessed that only the first half of Dad's Sunday school class was devoted to the Bible, the second half being entirely dedicated to football. I can picture the compliance of more than a dozen small boys awaiting that delicious moment when they could give Jeroboam and Nebuchadnezzar the boot, get out their Players' cigarette football cards, arrange them with careful fastidiousness along the communion wine shelf at the back of the pew and get down to some serious business.
The chapel, Ebenezer, a place I recently heard described as having been in its heyday a formidable force in the lives of the people of Trecynon, Aberdare,
is now sadly derelict and up for sale. The funeral service I'm attending this week will be held in what was once its vestry, and which has in recent years become the main place of worship for a dwindling congregation. Dad's cousin Pat (Patricia) had not long turned eighty when she died after a short illness. We called to see her in January and she seemed as fit as a fiddle, and the likelihood of returning for such a purpose seemed many years off. It will fill me with what we Welsh call 'hiraeth' (sort of 'longing' and 'sadness' combined) to attend this funeral.