A for Aberfan.
One of my earliest memories is of playing in the street as a seven-year-old with my friends and being very worried about my aunt and uncle who lived in Aberfan and who kept a fish and chip shop there at the time. I'd seen aerial photos of the landslide and the devastation it caused, but strangely none of the photos indicated clearly to me the position of Daveys' fish bar, so my mind was not put at rest. They were at the other end of the village, however, so the disaster had an indirect impact on them. They stayed open all night the night of the landslide, providing meals for the rescuers. And they were involved, like all the villagers, in the aftermath of the tragedy for years to come.
Because we lived in another mining valley the Aberfan disaster had other, continuing effects on our lives.
Perhaps the first thing was the hand-wringing of the National Coal Board and the action taken - too little, too late for the poor families of Aberfan, of course - to make the coal tips safe. As a kid I roamed wild on the tip behind our house. Oblivious to any danger, we'd drink from the streams that bubbled up here and there - careful only to avoid any that contained sheep droppings or - horror - dead sheep. We'd dig dens in piles of coke and clinker - it was only years later that I realised that the pile of coke and clinker was the waste from the steam engine that my grandfather look after which drew the trucks of waste up the mountain.
The National Coal Board gave a contract to Ryan, I think, to come and landscape the coal tip, extracting all the coal dust in the process. There were massive earth-scrapers, bull-dozers, lorries and dumper trucks and a temporary road that gave access further up the valley at Dinas Rhondda. When they landscaped the mountain they did it in terraces that made it look less natural than even the tips, then they spread tons of chicken manure everywhere - the smell was astonishing - before seeding it with grass. It took years for these human efforts to catch up with what nature had done more effectively in the preceding years.
I think it may have been at this time that the cottage my father grew up in was bull-dozed. Both my parents' ashes are scattered where we think the cottage was - we found it as best we could judging by the position of the park fence and other landmarks that had not been eradicated by the earth-movers.
Our valley was littered with conical tips, always placed on the mountain top pretty well directly above the villages which were, of course, in the valley floor. By the mid 1970s only Tylorstown Tip remained and it is still there to this day. I don't know why it escaped.
Now the Rhondda is clean, green and devoid of any heavy industry. There are fish in the river and lots of wildlife in the hills. It's become a beautiful place again, a real testimony to the power of nature to recover and restore.
In 1977 I went off to university at Aberystwyth. My aunt and uncle told me of a lad from Aberfan who was a student there. Just a little older than me, a survivor of the landslide, he had been pulled from the slurry in the ruins of the school. His name was very ordinary. I thought there was little chance of me meeting him amongst 3000 students but I said that I would look out for him. Well, I met him in my first few weeks. We sang together in the Gilbert and Sullivan society's production of Mikado. We never talked about the disaster, though he knew my uncle and aunt, of course.