When he was in his forties, Jack’s dad used to get up every morning at 4am, go swim in the sea (no matter what the weather), then drive a hundred miles through the Cambrian Mountains to work. He’d arrive at his metal foundry in the Midlands before any one else did. Then, at the end of the day, he got in his car and did the same thing in reverse.
I woke up thinking about his daily trip. I hadn’t known him when he did it – he’d retired by then – but it existed almost as legend. He loved this part of the world, in rural Wales by the sea, so much he was willing to do that trip every day so he could live here. So his kids could live here. When most other successful businessmen were buying bigger houses, nicer cars and sending their children to private school, Jack’s dad was trying to escape to a small village in Mid-Wales. You couldn’t fault him for originality.
It hit me – thirty years later, that I’ve become part of this driving legacy. By marrying his son and living at the back of his compound, I’m now part of the same community he fought to be part of. Because in order to live in this remote place, you often have to fight. It’s not like you’re coming here for the job opportunities. And the local people are what you’d expect of an ancient, removed landscape. They speak one of the oldest languages in Europe. They’re proud of their anti-English sentiment. So, when an Englishman moves here, it takes a while to be accepted.
Jack’s dad enrolled Jack (eight-years old at the time) in the firmly local, Welsh-speaking school. Whether or not it was such a good idea academically, it did have some upsides. Jack is firmly part of this community now. As I’ve written before, he knows everything about everyone without trying to or being interested in knowing it. It would make any hard-core gossip want to eat their shoes.
Jack himself didn’t always want to live here. When I first met him as a fresh-faced university student, he was dying to leave small-town life. I’d just left a big city and was happy to be full of sea air and mountain views… but I could see his point. We needed to leave in order to have careers. And he needed to get away from his dad and build his own identity. So we did. We did come back ten years later – and frankly when we did, I saw the change in Jack. He was happy. In the end, small-town happy for him beat any big city success. He was back home.
This leads me back to Lulu. Like Jack, she carves her identity out of friendship and connections. Like me, she enjoys the sea air and the mountain views. And we are supremely lucky for both of these things. This is a beautiful, wry-eyes and tongue-sharp community. And, because of the long history of conflict across Wales’ invisible border with England, the levels of subversiveness are just about right. People here look after their own.
Grandpa might not be with us any more, but we still are. I washed the salt off my car this morning. I hope he knows it was worth the drive.