I must point out this boring account of my childhood contains colloquial phrases, and bad grammar.This is intentional due to poor education and my sheer dislike of going to school.. Readers from the States and other parts of the world may find some sentences difficult to understand " But there we are innit!"
"It's only wind or powder on the stomach"my Mam had said as she walked home from the ammunition factory on a cold Autumn evening.
The "wind" or "powder" was born on the 2nd December 1942. I, Colin Gronow, had arrived, born in the middle of a war!
I was the third child born to my parents, Mam, who worked in the "arsenal" at Bridgend, and Dad, who was a coalminer. I had a sister June,and a brother Creighton. My brother was ten and June was eleven. I've always wondered why there was such an age gap, I suppose the war had something to do with it, because during an air raid my Mum and Dad took shelter in the coal cellar under the house, and well, they had to do something to take their minds off the bombing!
So here I was, a little boy, born on the Graig, ready to face the world. The Graig is a district about half a mile from the centre of Pontypridd, a small town in the coalfields of South Wales. I lived in Phillip Street, one of several long terraced streets perched halfway up the side of a mountain.
The houses were built of stone to house the miners and their families, and were very basic, two rooms downstairs, and two rooms upstairs, or if you were posh like us, three down, three up.
Downstairs consisted of a "Front room" "Middle room" and a small room called the "Back Kitchen" which puzzled me as there wasn't a kitchen at the front.
The middle room was where we mainly lived, ate, and played games in the evenings.
Also this is where my "Nan Oliver" lived. The "front room" was kept for best and was out of bounds to little boys, reserved only for Sunday evenings, "courting" and in most houses for funerals, as the front window was the easiest way coffins could be carried to and from the house!
There were no luxuries such as an indoor toilet or bathroom, and the only water tap we had was located on the outside wall of the house on what we called the "Bailey" now called a patio.
From the bailey, which also served as Mam's
utility area, that is, a tin bath to wash clothes in,
a steep flight of steps led down to the garden,
and a small stone built toilet with no lighting and
squares of yesterday's newspapers pushed on
to a nail in the wall. I remember sitting on the toilet
on cold dark evenings with only the light of a torch
and the spiders in their webs looking down at me.
Soon the day came when I had to go to school.
I developed every illness a child of five could have, but Mam had heard it all before. "You are going to school even if I have to carry you" she said, then carrying me in her arms as if was a log of wood, marched along Phillip St, down Walters Road, passing the Graig Post Office, (where I almost managed to grab a drain pipe) until we reached the top of Factory Lane, a small hill overlooking my destination, Maesycoed InfantsSchool.
I remember little of my first day at school, except a terrible feeling of loneliness as I peered out through the iron bars of the school gate crying as I watched my mother disappear around the corner. Then someone rang a bell, and teachers herded us into a line and marched us off into the school.
We were shown where to hang our coats, and were then given a small cup of orange juice, perhaps school wasn't going to be so bad after all.
We were then lead into an assembly hall, and told to sit on the floor.The teachers introduced themselves, told us a little bit about the school, what we could do, and what we could not do. Around the assembly hall were small classrooms, and I remember in the corner of the hall was a glass case containing a stuffed fox with a rabbit in it's mouth. The fox seemed to stare at me with it's brown glassy eyes, and I made a point of not looking at it from then on.
I think the first lesson we had was how to tie our boot laces which took me about half a day to master.
At lunchtime we all went out into the playground, and I was standing alone in a corner when I felt a tap on the shoulder. "Hello what's your name?" said a voice.
Turning around I was confronted by a boy with black curly hair and a torn jumper and looking scruffier than me. "Colin Gronow" I replied. " My name is John Locke" he said, "but you can call me Locky." Locky lived in a small house in Factory lane and stood on the banks of a small river, which was known locally as the "Black River" and I discovered why, when one day I fell in and was covered from head to toe with a mixture of water and coal dust.
When I arrived home, Mam took one look at me and said " Right no tea for you until you have a bath". To have a bath in those times was a major operation, as there were no luxuries like hot running water. The tin bath had to be taken off the outside wall of the house, placed on the floor of the "Back Kitchen" then numerous kettles of water had to be boiled on the old gas stove in order to fill it. It was around ten o' clock that night before I had my tea.............
I spent many evenings with Locky playing by the Black River, but I was extra careful not to fall in again. The source of the Black River which flowed past Locky's house emanated from "Penrhiw" a disused coal mine about half a mile up the valley.
One day we decided to walk to the mine to find out why my Mam and Dad had said "It's dangerous there, and if we ever find out you've been playing there, you will get a wallop."
When we arrived at the mine, we looked up at two enormous wheels perched on top of a wooden structure about 100ft above the ground." Last one up is a sissy" said Locky.
I cant remember who got to the top first, but it was fun. Then we dropped a brick
down the mine shaft to find out how deep it was, it took ages before we heard it hit the bottom hundreds of feet below.Then after placing an old wooden plank across the mine shaft to see who could run across the quickest, we decided
it was time to go home. What did Mam and Dad mean, it was dangerous.?
As I grew old ( about six or seven), I began to realise school wasn't that bad after all. I soon made more friends and discover even more death defying mischief!
Myself and brother Creigh
Mam and Nan Oliver at Barry Island