Caught by the River

Lines Made By Walking

Jude Rogers | 19th April 2010

by Jude Rogers

5. Home Lines

The train came, it left, it cut a clean line through the countryside, and I arrived home at Swansea three hours later. Now, after three days in Loughor, the village I come from, I decide to take advantage of the rare, lovely weather. My mother – Mam – wants to come too. She pulls on her trainers and her sunglasses, and we venture down to the river.

a. We moved to Pengry Road in 1983. Mam and Dad had always loved the house, passing it in the car on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I remember looking round it, just turned five and nosy as anything. The bright pink living room, the yellow kitchen, the bedroom wallpapered with lilac and orange flowers, how those colours disappeared when we moved in. Dad passing away six months later, at least spending some time in a house he’d always loved.

We walk in the middle of the road, going west, and the clouds dance along with us.

b. Outside the workingmen’s club, where Grandpa would go for his bitter, there are now two bus shelters for smokers who want to shelter from the rain. Both of them making us laugh as we stroll down the street. Next to them, wooden benches have been put outside for the summer. They gleam this morning, willing on opening time.

Down the road, on the corner, the phone box gathers cobwebs. Dr Waters’ house sits opposite, hiding behind its tall conifers and stout grey walls. Mam remembers going carol-singing there every Christmas in the Fifties. I feel intensely jealous, because it is a house I have never seen, a house I probably never will.

c. We pass Grandma’s to the left, sitting pebble-dashed and peaceful, the front doorstep Grandpa used to sit on when he was with us.

We don’t stop, not this time, but carry on down Borough Road, past the lane to Mrs Marsden’s, the piano teacher who used to terrorise my brothers, and the old post office, long closed, where I used to pick up the pensions, Mam’s child benefit, buy the papers, chat to Rita and Mair The Milk. It is now a house, but looking empty, no signs of life behind its windows. I remember the counter full of sweets, the till ringing, the war stories.

Opposite sits The Rev, its yellow walls full of other tales. I remember mine – woozy Christmas Eves trying to fix my eyeliner in the dusty mirrors in the Ladies, the Sunday quiz that we have only won once. Mam and I pass the spooky footpath behind the new houses, avoid the thick leaves, and go around the Bwlch. An old dog says hello to us, and we arrive at the Foreshore.

d. The estuary looks pretty today, the river winding calmly to its blue mouth. All is serene, slow and quiet. On the opposite bank, an old factory next to INA Bearings glitters its rust at us. Mam tells me about the day she was thrown into the river here when she was little, how many people have died here, how she thought she might drown. She has never learned to swim.

As the bridge comes closer, we pass the old glassworks, a Welsh flag waving shyly in the sun, then the Boating Club, where we went for a goodbye dinner before I went to university. In front of it, an old lifeboat leans restfully on its side, like an old man waiting in peace for his pint. Mam sits and watches everything.

e. A train crosses the railway bridge, and the county boundary to Carmarthenshire. Traffic whispers by on the road bridge, built in the late 1980s, just around the time that Mam got married again. Mam and I remember the old bridge, taken down in 1989, and stand together on the part of it that was left behind. Now it acts as a little viewing platform to the new houses in Bynea, and steps lead down from it to a shore of brown sand.

Mam remembers coming here after a school as a girl, she says, eating a lollipop, thinking it was like St Tropez. I go for a look as she stands on the step, the morning light turning her into a silhouette.

f. We cross the road that becomes the bridge, and go back into the village, where the castle, the little castle, urges us upwards. When I was a child, it seemed enormous, sitting on top of a motte that took the wind out of my little legs. Now it seems tiny, a heap of timid ruins.

I remember learning in school about how the Romans came here and named the village Leucarum in the 1st century, and the dig that revealed an old fort, only a few years before I was born. Today, all the castle has is empty cigarette packets and crème egg wrappers, and Mam popping through the doorways, appearing and disappearing.

It feels perfect. I take her picture, she smiles, she takes mine, we head home.

g. We walk around the monument, where I used to lay wreaths with the Brownies, go past the Rescue Centre, go up Pen-y-Scallen. I see the old lanes behind the garages, where I used to take shortcuts, remembering the mud on my shoes, and the excitement of finding secret passages in such a familiar place.

But this street is the most familiar of all. We turn the corner, and I stop outside Grandma’s, outside Anwylfan. Anwylfan means beloved place, and it was, and it is. I look up the path, remember her face through the window, even in those last years after Grandpa had gone, and think of the days running up there after school, the sugary tea, the endless sandwiches. I loop my arm around Mam’s, hold it tight, keep it there.