IT has been an emotional week in Wales. The television channels have been broadcasting programmes about the Aberfan disaster, leading up to Friday’s 50th anniversary of the day when a colliery spoil tip slid onto the village school and neighbouring houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
The National Coal Board was to blame for allowing a spoil tip to be built on top of streams and springs. But some local politicians did not emerge with any credit either.
I was a 15-year-old schoolboy when Aberfan happened in 1966. A few years later, I was a young reporter sent by my news desk to cover another tip slide in a village in another valley.
Thankfully there were no deaths, but choking slurry crashed into several houses in a chilling echo of what had happened at Aberfan. I was in one of those houses, talking to the woman who lived there, when a local councillor came in.
He was a big, physically imposing man, who filled the small room in that damaged house. I introduced myself and asked for his thoughts on what had happened. Never taking his eyes from mine, he said to the woman: “Now Mrs Jones, you don’t want to be talking to people like this. Leave everything to us.” The embarrassed woman apologised, but said it was best if I left.
I can still picture that councillor. The representative of a political system that had given one party too much power for too long, and where the little people were expected to keep quiet and leave everything to the people who benefited from that monopoly of power.
Since that day I have believed that, while corruption can come in many guises, it most often comes wearing a political party rosette.
IGNORANCE: NOT BLISS
SEMI-POSH John (he was a scholarship pupil at boarding school), who is one of my fellow morning swimmers, asked me if I had read the story about a baby that was born without any blood in its veins, but survived and is apparently doing well. I hadn’t. The story sounded incredible, but I realised that my knowledge of biology is so deficient, I don’t even know how blood is created in an unborn child. It’s moments like this that confirm how well-rounded my general ignorance is.
THE MOON’S FOOTPRINT IS GETTING MORE DISTANT
THIS week I read ‘The Outrun’, which won this year’s Wainwright Prize for nature writing books. It is as much a memoir of the author’s descent into and recovery from alcoholism as it is about life on her parents’ farm in the Orkneys. I enjoyed it so much that it has made me want to read more nature writing; a genre that I have had no difficulty resisting before.
Thanks to Amy Liptrot (the author), I discover that the moon is getting further away from the Earth at about 3.78 centimetres per year. I calculate that, during my lifetime, the moon has retreated 245.7 centimetres. This sounds a worryingly high figure, until I work out that it is about the equivalent of a UK size 5 shoe. One small step for a man….
PERISH THE THOUGHT
I DID another interview for the Retired Lives section of this blog this week. The interviewee tells me that waking up in the morning, and realising he is free to do whatever he wants that day, is “joyous.” It is only the following day that the naughty thought creeps into my head that his joyous freedom may have something to do with the fact that his wife still goes off to work each morning. I mentally apologise to all wives, immediately.
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY
I VISIT an art gallery to see an exhibition of work by various artists. There are two oil paintings I like, each on sale for a four-figure sum. I decide not to buy either. I like to think it is because neither quite hit the critical mark for me. I suspect the real reason is because I’m too tight-fisted to part with that sort of money for art.
Afterwards, The Current Mrs Feeney and I go for lunch in a Spanish-themed restaurant. We used to go there regularly when we were still getting to know each other. I recall how, one evening in animated conversation, she spilled a large glass of red wine all over the front of my shirt. She calmly ordered a large glass of white wine, and threw that over me too. “That will stop it staining,” she explained. That was the moment when I thought that I really should marry this woman.