In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Bora Da To You Too
Reflection 1977/Penned 2015
It was a bizarre and frightening time; I was a stranger in my own country, a country that I scarcely knew. We had been away for nearly thirteen years, ten’ish in Australia, and two’ish in Malaysia. The Britain of 1977 had, or so it seemed to me, changed totally from that of 1965, which I had left. Harold Wilson had given way to Ted Heath and then to Jim Callaghan. England had won the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966 and then lost it four years later. The debacle of 1974 is best ignored. What was a P45? Where could I find my National Insurance number? What had happened to shillings and pence?
The music had changed, and I didn’t seem to know any of the stars of the day. I wasn’t even sure that I knew what disco was, and when I found out, I was sorry I had bothered. There was a deep pool of common knowledge of which I was ignorant, on all those matters which had happened in our missing twelve plus years. People’s voices were unfamiliar and I had difficulty with the accents, especially in North Wales, where we had rented a house from my brother’s mother in law.
I was out of a job, but looking, and my children were at school in Welsh Wales where they were taught Welsh, a language less useful as Serbo-Croat. My wife, who had spent most of the missing years nagging me for a return to Britain, was now actively complaining about our new life, and nagging vigorously for a return to Oz. I needed a job, a car and a house of our own, but first and foremost, I needed a job, a proper job. On my father’s advice, I signed on the dole, and they were willing, but I had no expectation they would find me a job. My expectations were met; they didn’t find me a job.
About three months into our return, matters were at their lowest. There was still no job, just plenty of interviews, bafflement from the children who couldn’t understand their playmates, even when they spoke English, and a campaign from my wife which was dragging me down. She spent her time complaining about Wales and the Welsh, the weather, the rented house, but mostly about me. She threatened suicide, waving a knife in front of her throat, or mine. On reflection, she was right about the weather; it was always cold and never seemed to stop raining. Although I had signed on, and faithfully trudged the two miles into Llanrwst each Wednesday to repeat the ritual, I had received not a penny, and we were eating into our capital.
It was then I discovered Daffyd Hughes’ bookshop, and it became a small corner of peace in the midst of the typhoon swirling around my head and threatening to engulf me. I don’t know where my wife was, and I suppose the children were at school. I was in Llandudno trying to persuade a suspicious Halifax Building Society manager to lend me, an unemployed, non-customer, enough money to buy a house in Surrey. I wandered around the shops, and in Maddock Street, away from the big shops and Principal Street, I found a small, cowed looking bookshop. There were several large racks in the street into which a dog-eared jumble of paperbacks had been tossed. They were marked at 20p each.
I pushed open the door, and above my head a bell tinkled, sounding like a sweet shop of the early 1950’s. A man of about sixty, with thinning white hair was standing behind the counter at the far end of the shop, reading a book. He looked over his glasses and said “Bora da”, before resuming his reading. I mumbled a “Bora da” in return. It was one of the few Welsh expressions I had learned, and it meant ‘Hello’.
The shop was more a rabbit warren than a shop, with seven or eight rooms of different sizes on three floors. Books were everywhere, on shelves, on tables, on the stairs, on windowsills and growing, it seemed, out of the floor. There had, at one time, been some attempt at labelling and categorising the contents of the warren, but the system had simply been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. I expected cobwebs and dust and was not disappointed. I spent an interesting half-hour browsing, without finding anything I really wanted and was preparing to leave when the white haired one looked up again and said something in Welsh. I supposed it was Welsh, although it could just as easily been Inuit.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Welsh.”
“Anything in particular you are looking for?” he enquired in English in a not unpleasant accent.
“Do you have any cricket books?”
Daffyd, for such he was, came from behind the counter and pointed out half a dozen or so fairly undistinguished items, which I politely flicked through. He watched me. “Are you interested in Wisdens?”
Well, is the Pope a Catholic? Wisden’s Cricketer’s Almanac was first published in 1864 and covers, in great detail, the previous year’s cricket throughout the world. My parents had given me my first copy, that of 1954, and I had faithfully bought every subsequent issue.
“Yes,” I replied, trying not to be too enthusiastic.
He went upstairs and returned with a small cardboard box, blowing away the spiders’ webs and dust of many years. The familiar yellow books nestled there like a clutch of golden eggs. There were fifteen in all, from 1938 to 1953, and missing only 1942. They slotted in perfectly with my own collection, starting, as I said, in 1954.
“How much?” I gulped.
“Three pounds each” he said quizzically.
I could hardly get my agreement out in time. I didn’t have the funds, but my, by now, friend, Daffyd Hughes, agreed to keep them for me and I could pick them up as I had the money. This unique purchase provided the basis for my collection, which is now complete. The books for which I paid £45 in 1977 are now catalogued, in 2004 at £1865, and when I got round to buying the missing 1942 copy, not from Mr Hughes, it cost me £225.
I did get a job, we did buy a house, my employers gave me a car and the kids went back to speaking English. My wife and I divorced in 1988. I still go back to North Wales, perhaps three or four times a year. For many years I enjoyed my ritual exchange in Welsh with Daffyd. In addition to ‘Bora da’, I learned how to say, thank you. Dioch an var. Daffyd always offered to buy back my Wisdens at double the price I paid, and as part of the ritual, I pretended to consider his offer, before reluctantly refusing.
Mr Hughes died four or five years ago of a heart attack, undoubtedly contributed to by his cigarette smoking, and my visits are less frequent now. His little shop was my haven at a time when I needed it.
Dioch an var, Daffyd.
Written by my Father B.M