Sunday, 14 August 2016

Remembering Penallta and Dyffryn Street

This morning I celebrated the eight o'clock for four faithful people at St Catherine's, picked up some croissants for breakfast from the Co-op, then returned to church later to celebrate the Sung Eucharist with two dozen others. That's half the regular congregation, but then it is August, and most of those with families are away on holiday at the moment. I was warned that on my last appearance at St Catherine's this month, Bank Holiday weekend, in two weeks time, numbers could be even smaller. Never mind, I thought, like swallows, the faithful will return. The regular pattern of attendance is now spread out over a year, more than a month or a quarter, as a result of what increased mobility makes freely possible for people, whether as single youngsters, young families, grandparents or fit and healthy ancients. Such a different world from the one in which we grew up.

My cousin Ros with whom I grew up, sent me via Facebook, a photo of Dyffryn Street, Ystrad Mynach, with Penallta Colliery buildings in the background. This photo was taken so early in the 20th century, (possibly 1905-10), that the house she grew up in, next door to our grandfather Kimber, had not yet been built. Absent from the photo also was a terrace in Penybryn, Gelligaer, up beyond the pit, known as the Forty Houses built, as was my childhood home in Glen View further down Penallta Road, by the Powell Dyffryn coal mining company for the families of coal miners.
 Also absent from the photo are spoil heaps along the hillside above the Cylla Brook, which ran down the valley into the Rhymney river, just below Ystrad Mynach town centre. Spoil heaps is what they are called in modern parlance. Mounds of rock and unusable coal shale, dumped in any available open space. To our generation they were 'coal tips' on whose lower slopes us kids would play on swings hung from big trees not yet overwhelmed by the assaults of dumping which today would be deemed illegal on environmental grounds. Cylla Brook, running past the end of my street, my mum called "The Black Brook", its natural sandstone silt overwhelmed by coal dust. 

After playing on the end of a swing, my favourite occupation was getting dirty, climbing the coal tip and hunting for carboniferous fossils in shale, every bit as wondrous as hunting for marine life in a seaside rock pool, thanks to Grandpa Kimber's knowledge of the ground from which he'd earned his living for decades. John Kimber Senior was a mine Under-Manager. It was the climax of his forty years as an engineering team leader, sinking mine shafts in dozens of locations across South Wales after his return from America, where he learned to be a steel erector, making structures go up in the sky not down into the ground. My love of landscape later in life developed out of that fascination he shared with me for that only ever partly visible underside of mother earth. 

This love grew only as I travelled beyond the Valleys of my childhood, and learned to connect above and below. I was drawn by the nature of my schooling to the investigative art of science, in Physics and Chemistry, rather than Geology, yet I recall, when asked in the sixth form how I envisaged my future, it was as being an explorer of lands unknown that caught my imagination. I was not keen on Geography, uninspired by the Geography teacher. In those days this was the sole gateway to studying earth sciences, but Chemistry just grabbed me - thanks to great inspiring teachers - albeit just for a few years.

Grandpa Kimber was most put out when I was drawn from the path of pure science by the discovery of Psychology, Philosophy and Theology, in that order, interestingly enough from my present viewpoint. He was mildly horrified by my embrace of something more than token erastian Anglicanism, and threatened to disown me. My father too was disconcerted and tried to dissuade me without success. I just didn't fit in with family expectations, but eventually they got used to it and were grudgingly proud of me being different, standing up and being counted. They were both distinctive individualists.

That photo of Penallta and Dyffryn Street predates all my childhood place memories. It prompted me to 'look to the rock from which you were hewn' as the prophet Isaiah puts it. Growing up in the valley below Penallta colliery is an experience that sowed many seeds within me, that have taken generations to come to fruit as part of the richness of the life I have enjoyed. Great cause for thanksgiving.

On quite a different domestic note, yesterday's mission to buy a new mechanical lawnmower was unsuccessful, so this afternoon, after a paella lunch, prepared by me while Clare was at Riverside Market, including beans from St Catherine's churchyard garden, bought after the service, we went to B'nQ, and acquired a replacement machine for mowing the back lawn. It's actually identical to the one that didn't survive an encounter with the metal tube for mounting the washing line. Not very robust, but what you pay is what you get, unfortunately.

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