This has been a very odd week. Firstly, the family dynamic has definitely changed. On Monday I was driving up to London to stay at the flat my daughter shares with her husband. All of those concerned conversations we had had about traveling hundreds of miles in a car were now being repeated, but in reverse. She was the one worried about my safety and my ability to drive that far, and I was the one saying not to worry I would be fine.
I used to be the one taking care of her…
That night they made sure I had a glass of water by the side of my bed and in the morning, they came into my room to make sure I was awake before they left for work!!! Hmm, it all felt a bit strange, but very reassuring.
Right the way through the day all sorts of people came into my mind, some who I think about a lot and others who haven’t made an appearance in my brain for many years.
One of the first was my Uncle Alwyn who used to live in Cwm Lan Terrace. By the time I arrived in 1960 he had already retired from his ‘proper’ job. But every Christmas he used to help out at the Co-op in Swansea, meeting and greeting thousands of kids whilst dressed in a big red coat and wearing a big white beard as he stood in for the real Father Christmas, when Santa needed a bit of a break.
As a teenager I remember having a bit of an argument with Uncle Alwyn about how we should dress for church. Now as I was brought up in a little Gospel Hall which meant going to church up to 4 times on a Sunday this was relatively important. Also, it was always a source of embarrassment bumping into friends on a Sunday. They were dressed in flares, cheese cloth shirts and platform shoes whilst I had a suit on that had probably been handed down to me from one of my older brothers.
On the left me..on the right my mates!!!
I suggested to Uncle Alwyn that The Almighty probably didn’t mind it I turned up in jeans and a T shirt. His reply was if I was going to meet the Queen of England, I would surely wear a suit. How much more should I dress up every Sunday because by going to Church I was going to meet the King of Kings. That’s a position its hard to argue with don’t you agree?
I don’t expect Uncle Alwyn, or I ever thought when we were having that discussion, that either one of us would ever be placed in that position. But on Tuesday I was and as I put the finishing touches to my three-piece suit and straightened up my tie Uncle Alwyn came into my mind and I smiled.
The reason I was going to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and Prince Charles and most of his family was that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. Probably more importantly for us it marks the 50th Anniversary of Swansea becoming a city. I remember July 1969 very well. We watched the Investiture from Caernarfon Castle on the TV and then waited for Prince Charles to arrive in Swansea with a letter form the Queen with the official papers turning our town into a city.
The climax of the Swansea events was a Cymanfa Ganu at Tabernacle in Morriston. The congregation was made up of the great and the good with a mixed choir which including representatives from lots of Swansea Schools. We had a particular interest because that choir included my brother Gareth. I’m pretty sure the Cymanfa was broadcast on the radio and we bought the album afterwards as well for posterity.
50 years on and for some reason I had been invited to attend the reception which marked the start of the Royal celebration this year. As I approached the gates of Buckingham Palace the next unexpected guest in my mind was my grandmother Myfanwy. Well, she wasn’t a totally unexpected guest. My grandmother was a massive influence on my life growing up and I often think or dream about her even if she did pass away over 30 years ago.
When my mum went back to work a as teacher my grandmother was always there at home, making tea or playing the piano. She was a remarkable musician with letters after her name. She could play Handel and Bach and she had the training and talent to play a massive pipe organ, pedals and all. For most of her life she played a pump harmonium at our little Gospel Hall in Manselton. Although named ‘Mam’ as in ham we actually called her Maam as in Farm, a little like the way you are supposed to address the Queen.
I remember the way Mam would welcome some of the unusual London visitors who would visit from the world of Rock n Roll. She was visibly perplexed when the first visitors from Elton John’s Rocket Record company announced they were vegetarian, but she was delighted when Radio 1 DJ Paul Gambaccini described her beef dinner as being ‘yummy’.
I will never forget her face the day she found out I had passed my A levels and I was on my way to University. I think it was delight rather than surprise, but I was never completely sure. Mam had been born when Queen Victoria was on the throne and had lived within a mile of her birthplace all of her 87 years. As I stood before the gates of the Palace in my mind, I saw her face again, and it was definitely smiling.
There was very strict security at The Palace as you can imagine and after we deposited our coats in the cloakroom, we all made our way to the Picture Gallery. Here we were served some fizz and canapés, whilst we all played spot the celebrity and waited for the arrival of Royal Family. The thing about that family is that we feel we know them personally. We have grown up with them on our televisions and in our magazines and papers. We’ve read the gossip and we’ve watched the series The Crown on Netflix. So, it’s hard to put into words what its like being up close and in the same room with them all.
After the informal meet and greet we all went into the Throne Room for a recital by students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, including some music by our very own Sir Karl Jenkins, and after a short sermon from the Archbishop of Canterbury it was back to get our coats and the start of the journey home.
As I collected my coat, I noticed that the staff were handing our plastic bags for the visitors to put in the various pieces of paper we had collected during our stay. I probably didn’t really need one, but I thought to myself, Mam would have loved all of this, and I bet my mum would like one of those to keep her knitting in.
If you would like to see highlights of my day I put it all into a little film
It was 1am by the time I got back to Swansea and at 4am I was awake again and ready for my early morning radio show. Thank goodness I took some pictures otherwise I might have started to question if Uncle Alwyn, Mam and the Queen were all part of the same, strange dream