I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? Wales-June 16, 2021

I headed to North Wales for my first job, after my university studies, to Mold (Yr Wyddgrug, in Welsh), the first main town, heading west from Chester in England. It has a population of about 10,000, tiny by contrast to London (about 6 million). It is the county town and administrative seat of Flintshire County Council, as it was of Clwyd from 1974 to 1996: I arrived there in 1978.

Likes

Snowdonia and hills and valleys: The town was in the shadow of the Snowdon range of mountains and summer evening walks to the top of Moel Famau (about 1800 feet) were always a treat.

Living in the town centre and walking to work: Though housing was an early issue, starting with a holiday let with a corrugated plastic roof (!) in a coastal resort village called Ffynnongroyw, we then got a council house a block from the town centre, in a cul-de-sac; the high street was less than 5 minutes away. I walked to and from work most days, about 20 minutes, and often came home for lunch. The house had only coal fire places for heating. What else in a mining area?

Lock-ins, Sunday drinks, and early drinking: The first time I heard “Last orders!” but saw no one move, I was stunned. By the time my Dad came to visit and have the same reaction, I was a lock-in (after-hours) regular. Order was always kept by having local police as part of the party 🙂 The obverse of this was being able to go to our ‘local’ after home football matches and be let in for ‘early’ drinking. Sometimes, we needed to throw stones at the upstairs window of the landlord to be let in. 🙂

Mold was in a ‘wet’ county, that is, pubs were open every day. It was adjacent to Gwynedd, which was ‘dry’ on Sundays, with pubs closed. So, each Sunday, our pubs were full of those fleeing their dry state 🙂 It was funny to see the pubs near the border jammed packed with thirty folk 🙂

Welsh ‘Labradors’ 🙂 We bought our first puppy in Wales, a ‘Labrador’, whom we named Bella. She turned out to be a mongrel, but mainly Labrador; all came clear as her snout lengthened not remain stubby. She loved digging and was often found with dirt flying out of a fresh hole as she burrowed her way next door or buried bones.

Being the talk of town: Mold had two football teams in different leagues. Win and good things came our way. Our local butcher was always good for a nice pound of sausages after a win 👏🏾👏🏾

Dislikes

Impact of Thatcherism: Mine closures and unemployed friends. It was hard to deal with months of doubt and sense of shame some had at not being able to earn their living. But, we rallied around those in need, as best we could.

Football in osbcure villages: The weirdest had to be Bala, towards the western part of Gwynedd, with far more sheep than people. Good thing I had learned some Welsh, which helped me with my own team mates, but more so in the hostile environment of rural Wales, where it was the first language, much of the time. It was always hostile, not least because it was sometimes tinged with a long-standing distaste for the English (and coming from the north-eastern end of the country, to which many English people from Merseyside had migrated made that easier to apply). We usually arrived changed, played, and left as soon as we could after the final whistle; no drinks, lads. We’d often had to play with crowd who weren’t afraid to tap ankles of players as they encroached on the side-lines. Not nice times.

Cutting bus services: It was the job I was assigned to do, but that didn’t make it easier to see the impact of rural life of dwindling services provided by Crosville.

People thinking all Welsh people are alike: South Walians are quite different that those in the north. The south was really all about coal mining, with its valley towns. Accents and life style are different and love of sport is different; the south is rugby central, football has at least an equal claim in the north, with Merseyside influences strong. Add to that being a Jones in the land of the Joneses: speaks for itself, with the added twist of being a black man who’d learned to speak some Welsh 🙂

Blizzards: Mold was cut off twice while we lived there, as snow storms blocked roads. The upside was a quick community effort to ‘dig out’ the town and cars that were buried in snow drifts. One night, coming from Chester, the storm had been so bad, my car couldn’t proceed and I opted to walk the remaining few miles to Mold. Wise? Well, the next day, I had to dig out a car covered to the roof with snow.