Friday, 21 October 2016

Up and beyond the coast road

Today is actually the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster I wrote about last Sunday. The BBC Radio Four Today programme had a thoughtful report by John Humphrys, who as a young reporter had visited the village that day. Radio Cymru played part of Karl Jenkins' Aberfan memorial cantata recently premiered. BBC Radio Wales gave over the morning to playing music, and receiving phone calls from people in Wales and further afield sharing their stories from that day. At nine fifteen, the minute's silence in honour of the 144 dead was observed, but it was not 'radio silence'. I believe it was a live feed of the ambient sound being experienced at the ceremony in the village itself, as the distant roar of traffic on the A470 above, and birdsong, could be heard. 

Silence started and ended with the blowing of a whistle. I wondered if this was connected with the original rescue efforts, but I haven't found anything to confirm it. Rescuers digging for survivors commonly use a whistle to call for silence and stillness if any sound is heard from the stricken zone.

This landslide of a mining spoil heap into a school full of children, was an example of incompetent dangerous waste management on the part of the National Coal Board, many of whose practises may hardly have changed since the pits were developed by private mining companies. Eagerness to extract mineral wealth profitably from the ground and get rich as a result is often accompanied by disregard for safety of workers or the impact of the industry on the environment. It's still happening in many parts of the world, and despite modern scrutiny, it could happen again here over the introduction of fracking.

I found myself thinking not only of the teachers and children whose lives had been taken, but of the countless others working in mines, killed by industrial accidents or diseases, often receiving little or no compensation from company owners. The National Coal Board and its chairman Lord Robens were much criticised over the disaster, but nobody responsible was brought to judgement. Mother Nature's judgement on dumping large amounts of mining spoil over a watercourse was an avoidable environmental catastrophe. It wasn't bad luck but a man-made disaster. The fact that such things still happen indicates how far costs get cut, risks get taken and safety disregarded in pursuit of profitability. When will we ever learn?

After lunch, I went for a walk along the coast road. A little way beyond Mojacar's Parador hotel, I found an un-metalled road running inland alongside a piece of raised waste ground with derelict buildings on it. A gap in the more or less continuous urban development which is Mojacar Playa. The road goes alongside an arroyo flanked by more unkempt waste land, marred by rubbish. Then the road begins to rise and parts company with the arroyo. Half a kilometre from the coast road, houses with extensive gardens and terraces became visible, private villas, well separated from each other, and the road becomes metalled. After walking half an hour, I came to a luxury urbanizacion, like many others, built in Andalusian pueblo blanco style, borrowing features from Arabic buildings, arches, domes, towers suggestive of minarets but aren't. At 50 metres above the sea and an initial 10 metre rocky outcrop the road offers good coastal views.

Cloud shrouded the peaks inland, but was more broken out to sea. The mountain foothills, contain a lot more dwellings scattered on them than are visible initially from the coast road, up to a height of 200 metres. There may be a hamlet or a village up there, but then it may be a select hotel or urbanizacion, it's hard to tell, from a distance of several kilometres. Who lives there? Who goes there? Who stays there? It'd be interesting to find out, but living that far from town is must be rewarding for the views alone. 

On my way back I found I'd received an email from the Revd Roy Jenkins thanking me for my message of appreciation sent after his Sunday morning broadcast service. He said he'd worked on three different Aberfan commemorative programmes, and that preparations had been going on for over a year. When I arrived back at the apartment, I realised that I'd walked for nearly three hours, a distance of about 10 km. No wonder I'm feeling tired tonight.

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