This story took place sometime in the late forties/early fifties, before I was actually born.
Dad's uncle John was old, he had been a widower for some years and now lived with one of his two sisters in our hometown of Aberdare in the Cynon Valley. It had been one of those grim winters, cold, damp and endlessly grey, the sort where all you can do is grit your teeth and battle on. By the end of it, Uncle John, physically lugubrious by nature, was looking thinner than ever and pale as a ghost. His loving sisters implored him to take an early holiday, and listening to their good advice, he booked himself a week at Porthcawl.
I should perhaps say something about Porthcawl here. It sits on the Glamorganshire coast, faces out towards the Atlantic and is renowned for its bracing sea air. My parents, who didn't know a package holiday until they were in their fifties, loved Porthcawl, as indeed did most of their friends and contemporaries. In our valleys home in those days, grimy, dark and polluted from the coal industry, its lifeblood, the seaside town of Porthcawl, its air bursting with ozone, had a reputation bordering on the mythic. A visit there was the standard treatment for any respiratory ailment. My mother was a Porthcawl defender to the death; she absolutely loved the place - to Mam's mind spending a week there would tune and tone up anyone. Two weeks would get you into tip-top condition; three weeks and it wouldn't have been too great a stretch of the imagination to expect blind men to see or the lame to walk. Yes, Porthcawl was a tonic!
Anyway, Uncle John booked his week at Porthcawl and as anticipated, returned thoroughly refreshed. Unfortunately, shortly after his return he was taken ill, and having a dicky heart and a bad chest after his life as a miner, suffered a very serious heart attack and sadly died. My father, as a loving nephew and also in his capacity as secretary of the chapel, went along to the house to pay his respects. He took a cup of tea and the sandwich offered in the room the family used for meals and for all its daily negotiations. They talked warmly of Uncle John and reflected on his kindness and generosity and the good times they'd all shared. Then my father's aunts invited Dad into the 'front room' - this room was sacrosanct in those days, kept only for important occasions - and it was here that Uncle John had been laid to rest in his coffin, chapels of rest being considered cold, uncivilised affairs in Wales back in those days. My father, bearing the appropriate gravitas for a deacon stood beside the sisters to pay his last respects.
Dad said the undertaker to his mind had been a little too free and easy with the rouge, because Uncle John hadn't looked anything like that well in decades. This was a view clearly shared by Dad's aunts, who perhaps in light of the sensitive and melancholic nature of the occasion had chosen to ignore the mortician's artistry.
My father, always had a twinkle in his eye as he told how his aunts stood admiringly before their late brother.
It was Annie I think who felt moved to announce proudly to her sister Maggie, "You know, Mag, that week in Porthcawl did him the world of good! Look at the colour in his cheeks!"
Porthcawl does have the most marvellous air!