Yesterday was a beautiful day and I wanted to make the most of it. In the afternoon I popped over to Cwmbwrla Park to collect my copy of a new book, ‘Circling the Square’. The book tells the story of a community, Cwmbwrla. It also includes some tales from the nearby surrounding districts in the SA5 postcode.
This was the community in which I grew up and its values and community spirit are still engrained in me. The idea for the book came about during lockdown as people in those communities pulled together to take care of each other as they all tried their best to keep everyone safe during the early terrifying stages of the pandemic.
Behind me is where we used to play cricket. Its now Burlais School
As I stood overlooking the park I travelled back in time to when there was a cricket field where Burlais School now stands. I could still see Jeremy Charles hitting a ball for six and out of the park into someone’s back garden. I could smell the wintergreen in the chalet style changing rooms and hear the noise of studs on concrete as we all ran out, usually into the pouring rain. I even saw a couple of world class goals scored by yours truly. (Maybe I imagined that part).
We live in a special part of the world and this book tells so many stories about why this city is so good and by the way, it would make a perfect Christmas gift as well!!!
I was delighted to write the foreword which I have included below.
FOREWORD – CIRCLING THE SQUARE
I see the buildings, cluttering the skyline
Built by miners on a pittance of pay
They worked together, never on a Sunday
That was not their way.’
‘Goldens Days’ a song written with the view from the bedroom where I was born very much in mind.
I was always surprised that my grandmother Myfanwy could look back over her life which had taken in 2 World Wars and the Great Depression of the 1930’s and still talk about the good old days. Maybe as we grow older we forget the dark times. Does our memory have a sadness filter that means we only remember the sun filled, endless summer days or the snow drifts that stopped the buses going up Llangyfelach Road? That might well be the case but looking back on my ‘SA5’ childhood I have to say it was pretty nigh on perfect.
I was born in the front bedroom of my grandparents’ house in Penfilia Terrace, overlooking Brynhyfryd Square in 1960. We did move to Manor Road, Manselton for a number of years. That meant I went to Manselton infants school which was also the school where my mother taught. When my grandfather passed away in 1968 we added a ‘wing’ to my Mam’s end of terrace house in Brynhyfryd and all moved in together.
It was some years after I left home that we found out our extension didn’t have the firmest of foundations. Brynhyfryd was riddled with old mine workings. It was only when our garage at the back of the house fell into an old mine shaft we discovered that my bedroom had actually been built over an old drift mine entrance into the hills above the Square!
Whilst we might have lived in a post-industrial community with more than its fair share of scarred landscapes what I am so grateful for is the number of parks we had, all within walking distance. Most of my childhood was spent outside. My first great playground was Manselton Park, although it took me sometime to pluck up the courage to go there alone. My mother always said I shouldn’t go to the race course on my own in case the Teddy Boys got me. I didn’t know exactly what a Teddy Boy was but in my mind it was a cross between a very tall lad with a massive Teddy Bears head. No wonder I was scared.
Moving to Brynhyfryd Square coincided with my growing love of football and having Cwm Level Park on my doorstep was ideal. We would spend hours kicking a ball on the ash only stopping when too many boys had to go home for tea. Sometimes we would take the trip to Llewellyn’s Park, usually in spring to look for tadpoles or the 2 weeks in summer when we all tried to get a turn on their tennis courts during Wimbledon fortnight.
It was during my time at Brynhyfryd Junior School that the course of my life was set. Whilst being passionate about football, music was my other great love. Sundays were spent mostly in a little Gospel Hall in Philip Street where my grandfather led the Bible study group, my dad was Sunday school superintendent and my grandmother played the pump harmonium. That little Gospel Hall had a reputation for fine singing with the Francis Brothers covering tenor and alto upper ranges and Jack Williams bringing up the bass. From a babe in arms I would find my harmony note and join in.
By the age of 7 I had commandeered my brother’s Spanish guitar and by 9 had started writing songs. With the encouragement of a cool young teacher Mt Peter ‘Bongo’ Williams I joined the school band and regularly performed in front of the whole school. Little did he or I know that within 4 years I would have signed a recording contract with Elton John’s Rocket Records and life would never quite be the same again.
Although this book brings together so many ‘SA5’ communities I have to say I still feel some sort of rivalry with my neighbours in Hafod and Cwmbwrla and of course the kids from St Josephs’ Catholic School. Whether we were playing them at football, cricket or interschool sports days these were the big derby games we all looked forward to.
Some of those rivalries disappeared when I went to Manselton Junior Comprehensive when the combined forces of these primary school football teams made us also invincible. The fact we had Jeremy Charles in all of our sports teams was probably something to do with it as well. Those school matches at Cwmbwrla Park still linger in my memory, together with the image of my dad standing tall at 5 foot 6 inches dwarfed by Mel and John Charles standing alongside him on the touch line.
My football career peaked and started its steady decline in October 1972. I had the honour to captain the Swansea Schoolboys at the Vetch Field. Roy Bentley the Swansea manager turned to my dad who was stood at the side of the pitch. (My dad never missed a match during the whole of my school years) ‘Do you know who that lad is in midfield’ he asked? My dad proudly spelt out my name which Bentley duly wrote in his notebook. Sadly, by the end of the week Bentley had been sacked and with him went his notebook and my dreams of a career in football.
Whilst most of my school holidays were spent in London recording studios, during term time I was starting to make music with schoolfriends. Rehearsal space where we could make noise was always at a premium. Montana Park Community Centre, Cwmfelin Social Club and Tony Kiley, my drummers house in Cecil Street all shook to the sound of our rehearsal.
It wasn’t until my dad let us borrow his garage that we found a home. With the walls covered in carpet and egg boxes we made an extremely loud, joyful noise and I’d now like to officially thank the neighbours in Penfilia Terrace and Albany Close for not calling the police. Come to think of it maybe it was the vibrations from those rocking rehearsals that eventually led to the garage falling into that mine shaft!
I have so much to be grateful for growing up in ‘SA5’. These are just some of my favourite memories, but I have to say what I remember most is the people. Their kindness, their support and love. I always felt cared for and always felt there were people looking out for me and my friends. It was and is a special place and it made me who I am and for that I will always be very grateful.
Royalties will be reinvested in the community that inspired the book, with all revenue going to Cwmbwrla Community Events, a non-profit group that funds entertainment and sports activity for children and adults across Cwmbwrla, Manselton, Brynhyfryd, Gendros and Landore.
“Circling the Square: Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community” is available in paperback (£5.95) and eBook (£2.95) from Amazon and also, at a discounted rate from selected local retailers. Be a part of the Welsh community success story of 2020 and buy this book.