Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose

By Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Of Violets and Bells

Selyf Roberts

The hospital in Parma was part of the University, but stripped of any vestige of academia and adapted as a refuge for the sick, some of them Italian soldiers but most of us prisoners of war. Bare corridors and rooms deliberately scoured to make them clinically clean gave the lie to the building's exterior with its walls and towers studded with splendid carvings as fine as any of the numerous proud buildings which adorn this city, one of the principal cities in the old province of Tuscany. All that I knew about the place was that it had been a great favourite with the thousands who had toured Italy before the war. I supposed the city had important historical associations, a famous gallery or two perhaps, housing priceless works by old masters, but I knew nothing at all about them.

It didn't, however, take me long to find out. Very raggedly, and by dint of questions by the score in my very stiff Italian, I became the willing pupil of Sorella Caterina, a nun who had been sent into this world to give succour to prisoners of war. She it was who looked after the ward that I was in, and who made it her business to convince me that I had now arrived in the most beautiful, the most important, the most gifted, the most brilliant, the most aristocratic city in the whole world. If I understood her aright, and it must be borne in mind that the only English she knew was 'yes', not even Rome, where reigned her Father in the Faith, could be compared with Parma. What comfort I drew from this knowledge was dubious, because there was no hope whatsoever of my seeing any of it, fairest city in the world though it may have been. The guards made sure that none of us put a foot outside the ward, and yellow jaundice, together with two or three other less serious diseases, ensured that I wouldn't budge from my bed for quite a while. So there was nothing for it but to go on chatting with the Sorella, about Italy, its people, its culture, and about Parma, the city that was a combination of all that was 'true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report'.

It's true that in passing she mentioned the local woollen industry, and spoke ecstatically about the craft of the cottagers who worked in fine silk on the outskirts of town. Once she became mundane enough to speak of cheese and ham, the likes of which were not to be found on land or sea, but she didn't linger over

-148-

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Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • The Village School 1
  • Fear of the Sea 7
  • A Windy Night 9
  • The Late Lemuel Parry, Esq., J.P., O.B.E. 12
  • On Drowning a Cat 18
  • The House Across the Way 21
  • Weobley and St. Emilion 25
  • The Man in the Street 28
  • Old Dent 31
  • On Collecting Roads 34
  • 'their Land They Shall Lose' 42
  • The Red Flag 46
  • Strolling Players 50
  • One Sunday Afternoon 57
  • Salem 61
  • A Trip to the Circus 63
  • Thoughts on Coronation Day, 1953 68
  • From the Pulpit 72
  • How to Choose and Treat a Wife 77
  • To the Mountain 83
  • The Imperative Upon Me 88
  • Disenchantment 92
  • The Hiring Fair 94
  • The Man at Chapel House 97
  • Question and Answer 102
  • The Little Llandeilo Boots 105
  • My Last Day in Prison 108
  • A Discovery 118
  • A Land of Romance 121
  • Hi-Ho! 129
  • Ancestors 133
  • While Shaving 138
  • Of Time and Distance 141
  • A Methodist Deacon's Advice 146
  • Of Violets and Bells 148
  • Remembering Mrs Newbould 151
  • Good Morning, Lloyd 156
  • In Modesty and Trembling 162
  • Christmasn in the Valley 166
  • On Stammering 169
  • Butlins 172
  • A Millionaire 176
  • A Scene from Military Life 178
  • An Exile 180
  • The Fox Under Glass 183
  • A Doctor's Medicine 186
  • The Little Huts 189
  • Three Heads 191
  • On Memory 198
  • Uncle John's Boots 202
  • The Fur Coat 207
  • An Holy Kiss 214
  • Notes on Authors and Texts 217
  • Acknowledgements 238
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