Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Homeland revisited

This afternoon I drove up to my home town of Ystrad Mynach to visit Michelle and her baby daughter Millie, who are both to be baptized Sunday next. They live in a new house in Cwm Calon, Penallta, the new private housing estate built on the site of Penallta Colliery where my faith spent much of his working life. Michelle and Andy's home is so new, the street doesn't yet appear on Google Maps. My phone's geo-location device showed me to be in the correct area, but in between streets, rather than in a street. I stopped to ask a couple of people, outside washing their cars, but nobody had heard of the street name, and reached for their phones, equipped with the same street map app, and came to the same conclusion. I drove around the block a second time and spotted the street name plate, partly obscured by an ornamental bush. The house I was looking for was opposite.

Michelle and I chatted for an hour, and before setting out for home, I stopped to take some photographs of the new housing estate, complete with its own new Welsh language Primary School, and the industrial remains of the colliery, majestic Edwardian brick and stone buildings, due for eventual conservation, if ever the funding can be found. Some buildings have already been converted into small business premises and offices, but progress has been slow in the years of recession during which the new housing has been built. The Cylla brook, running down this side valley into the river Rhymney in Ystrad Mynach, is now accompanied by a cycle and footpath. Since the removal of mining spoil heaps, native woodland has re-grown beautifully. Such a difference from when I was a child. You can find the photos here.

At the bottom end of the estate, where once spoil heaps and railway sidings gave way to several green paddocks, two streets of well appointed terraced houses, were built for pit officials. Here my grand parents, aunt, uncle and cousins lived. Pit ponies grazed during the miners' annual fortnight holiday in the paddocks. Nowadays these fields are built over with houses, and the grassy open space in front of the terrace back entrances is a drab tarmac'd play area enclosed by a chain link fence. Do any local children ever play there? I wondered, given the proximity of woodland and a cycle trail. 

On the drive up there was a serious car crash in the southbound lane of the A470 north of Pontypridd, and the tail back of traffic an hour and a half later stretched up the highway beyond the next junction and roundabout, so the half hour journey took me forty five minutes. On the return trip, I took the A469 road straight down the Rhymney Valley, but this was congested all the way, especially around Caerphilly. Only on the approach to Nantgarw did traffic began to flow freely again. It took me an hour and a half to get home, and as a result I was too late to go to my Tai Chi class. 

I've heard from others whose regular commute takes them through Caerphilly, that it's like this every day, since the town's population expanded with new houses into outlying areas in the past fifteen years. With so many driving from the Valleys to work in Cardiff, traffic growth has impacted life significantly. It used to be pollution from mining that ruined the environment and quality of life in the South Wales coalfield. The Valleys are beautifully green again, and much better cared for, offering attractive places to live at lower house prices than Cardiff, but vehicle emissions here as in Cardiff are damaging to health and frustrating to lifestyle, when people have to spend so much time in cars for shopping and leisure as well as work. 

I fear that the revitalisation of a still extensive Valleys rail network will come too little and too late. I often think about us moving out of Cardiff, because of the health impact of pollution locally. But where to? Anywhere near the sea is going to be too expensive, anywhere too far inland has disadvantages associated with being too remote from social, cultural and medical resources necessary for life in old age. Probably too late for us to move anyway, until we get really decrepit and need looking after.

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