Alex's infra-red photos of summer holidays in Wales: here, a landscape in CeredigionAlex Haydn-Williams

I.

I’m reading the first page of the first twenty one years of my dad’s dad’s life, which takes you from 1918 to 1939. It’s a blown-up photocopy of a wire bound reporters’ notebook with the old WHSmith logo on the front, the one they use on vintage carrier bags these days.

Dad can read his handwriting easily, but I’m struggling. It tilts to the right, and the capital A just looks like a big lower case a. I’m sure my friend who’s taking a palaeography unit would know if this means something, points to a certain style of education in Swansea in the 1920s. For now, it just means I can’t make out the word between life and the on the second line.

II.

A memory which remains 
with me is of my gra paternal 
grandfather coming to our house -
it was his practice apparently to
visit on Thursdays as that was
baking day and he loved newly
made bread. He brought with him 
our Aunt’s dog Ted. That grandfather
died when I was three, so that
recollection must be my earliest.

Cardigan, on the river TeifiAlex Haydn-Williams

III.

My dad was never allowed a dog as a child, because of the busy road outside the house in England with a Welsh name. I don’t really remember that road, but I do remember walking along the two-foot wall that ran alongside the pavement and thinking I was high up. The not-allowed-dog’s one of those family legends that you hear so often you almost think you remember it. Like when mum saw David Bowie at Milton Keynes in 1983.

I have a really clear image in my mind of what that sitting room looked like. The house was demolished before I was born.

I’ve still got the taste in my mouth of the bread she’s been making lately, with yeast brought into the house from a corner-cafe-turned-shop at the end of the road with the excitement of black market cigarettes in the war. She gets up early to make it, and by the time I wake up it’s already cold.

My grandfather doesn’t refer to The War; he calls it ‘the 1914-18 war’. The next war, my GCSEs told me, followed as an almost direct result of the peace negotiations that happened when his age was still counted in months. Without it, he wouldn’t have left Swansea for Reading, then the coast, then France. Later he was in Italy, which I know about from five anecdotes passed down to me, reverently. He never wanted to travel to Europe in later life, because when he’d last been there, everybody had been trying to kill him.

My dad is usually a bit reluctant to travel far, but my mum desperately wants to visit our friends in India, or go to Scandinavia.

We go to Wales every summer, and always visit grandad’s cousin, who’s turning 102 this year. She phones to thank us for the flowers. Jenny can remember the General Strike. The next week, she sends me a copy of the Mabinogion in Welsh.

On the way home, we always take the train from Swansea to Reading.

Dad’s just gone to bed after watching a programme about the Brecon Beacons, from which he says he learnt a lot. He wears big white functional headphones, and puts his computer on his lap.

Dad loves explaining what the word hiraeth means to English people. 

I’ve been watching Normal People on my laptop with the volume coming out of the speakers. Me and Dad sit in the same room and watch our own things on our own screens and Mum says ‘it’s better than when you all had to sit round in the sitting room and watch Top of the Pops with your Nan.’ I have a really clear image in my mind of what that sitting room looked like. The house was demolished before I was born.

I support England in the football and Wales in the rugby.

Swansea BayAlex Haydn-Williams

IV.

In his Nobel Prize lecture, Kazuo Ishiguro said that as a kid in Guildford, “I was busily constructing in my mind a richly detailed place called ‘Japan’ – a place to which I in some way belonged, and from which I drew a certain sense of my identity and my confidence. The fact that I’d never physically returned to Japan during that time only served to make my own vision of the country more vivid and personal. […] The Japan that existed in my head might always have been an emotional construct put together by a child out of memory, imagination and speculation.”

I listen to it doing what I’m generously calling my daily exercise, as mum bakes bread next door. 

V.

  • Grandad was in the Ordnance Corps.
  • Grandad started the war as a private and ended it as Lieutenant Colonel John Williams.
  • Grandad once said to mum that he’d helped organise a Frank Sinatra concert for the troops.
  • Grandad read War and Peace during the war.
  • Grandad was in Venice soon after it was liberated, and as an officer, went out to the Lido and rode captured German warhorses along the beach.
  • Grandma didn’t like John talking about the war.
  • We don’t know as much about Grandma’s life.
near Nevern, CeredigionAlex Haydn-Williams

VI.


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Mountain View

Cultural Appropriation: a poem

I don’t know if any memories remain
with me at all of my gra paternal 
grandfather. I’ve seen photos where
what looks like a very small me
is with him at a heritage railway.
It was his practice apparently to
call me Smiler, because I grinned
a lot as a baby. He brought with him 
our Aunt’s dog Ted. Mum often says 
to Dad that she always used to love 
to hear your dad read to Otti. He 
used to love to see me eat. It’s a 
Welsh thing; Dad can never believe
that I don’t want seconds. That 
grandfather died when I was too
young to go the funeral, so that

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