Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose

By Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Christmasn in the Valley

Rhydwen Williams

Life was hard enough in the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach throughout the 1920s, as the civilized world, and the uncivilized, came to know full well. Unemployment became the pattern of men's lives, and the despair of those years was plain for all to see in the listless eyes and colourless checks, and quite a few slashed throats up on the mountainside. And there was hardly a Christmas, despite the ringing bells and steaming puddings and the stockings tied to bedposts like the wares of Johnny Onions, 1 come over to Llwyn-y-pia from Brittany, that didn't mock a small child's dreams and expectations.

For all that, I can't say that I ever failed to enjoy any of the Christmases in that far-distant childhood of mine, nor that I had to go without anything. Of course, neither my nose nor my senses had been trained to expect any special kind of luxury or delicacy, and I almost always had everything that was within the compass of my taste and desires.

The fact that I was brought up within a kitchen's snug walls was responsible, I'm sure, for the contentment I felt at the simplicity of the fare and fun. The word 'snugness' has a very special meaning for anyone who was familiar with the shelter provided by a collier's kitchen in days gone by the special warmth from a coal-fire, a grate full of red-hot cheerfulness, when the dozing cats purred like a choir in four parts and the kettle whistled as merrily as a row of sailors just landed on a quayside.

On Christmas morning, like any other morning, one of the homeliest features of that long-ago snugness was the large frying-pan hissing fat as it prepared the bacon and eggs for us. The festive meat whether pork, chicken, turkey or goose could scarcely have tasted better between a child's teeth, and the bacon and eggs far excelled any slice of bread with honey on it.

Those things we tasted in our early years were probably the nearest we ever came to a culinary thrill, something between palate and tooth, a sensitivity of the stomach, that a man never quite loses for the rest of his life. I don't want to suggest for a moment that such sensitivity was uppermost in the life of child or grown man in those days, that wouldn't be true by a long chalk, for a growing child and

-166-

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