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Bryn Balsdon



By Bryn Balsdon 

With unashamed indulgence, I reach for my rose-tinted spectacles. Now that I have reached an age when I can look back on some fifty years or so, I find that with a certain amount of prompting from my audience of one (my granddaughter) memories come flooding back.


At our latest regressive session, she asked me for my earliest memory of life in Mumbles in the Twenties. It was simply of being bathed in the old tin tub before the fire and asking my mother 'had she seen all the bubbles appear on the water whilst she washed my hair and I had my eyes closed?' It was obviously at this moment that my mother realised that she had not given birth to a genius!

The warmth of the bath, the warmth of the fire were simply extensions of the general warmth of our community. The whole street contained numerous aunts, uncles and cousins whose relationships would never have been recognised by a genealogical expert. I am sure that one's great-uncle's stepsister's children did not qualify for the title of aunt or uncle, but it did not matter, their doors were always open.

Mumbles was a marvellous place in which to spend one's childhood. The ever-present sea (I don't suppose it was ever as warm as my memory makes it) of which we kids made full use at every opportunity. We swam for hours from the bowling-green steps, racing each other to the moored boats at Southend and there was the joy of showing off as we dived off the sea wall at Oystermouth Station. There were the summer holidays, when with a few jam sandwiches, we would spend day after glorious day down Rotherslade under the watchful eye of 'Barney' Davies. His peremptory whistle still sounds over the years as he marshalled us from one part of the bay to another according to the state of the tide.

Our next-door neighbour, Lawrence Rosser, had a rowing boat that had been licensed to give holidaymakers a trip around the bay. When I had developed some muscle, he would allow me to help him. Trips would normally be three pence per person, but when the tide was not suitable, we would row around to Langland and mysteriously the price would rise to sixpence! Not that this affected me! my reward was the sweaty business of rowing but with the added bonus of being allowed to rig the little lug-sail and steer back. Standing at the tiller, as we rolled and pitched our way past the Mixen, I envied no one . . . such was the stuff that dreams are made of.

They say the sun always shines in one's memories, although I think it was in 1933 that we did not see it at all during our four weeks summer holiday as it teemed down every day, prompting the Education Authority to decree a further week's holiday and yes, it continued raining!

1934, that was the year I squeaked into Glanm˘r Secondary School with the aid of an extra examination held for border-line cases. This exam took the form of an oral, carried out by various Masters and I can remember just three of the questions asked, maybe because they were amongst the few that I answered correctly. 1) What were the times of High Tide on successive days? Now when you consider that these times regulated our swimming in either Swansea Bay or Rotherslade, ignorance of this question would only prove that the doubt that existed about my Further Education would have been well and truly underlined. Holding a watch under my nose I was asked, ' How many times in a day did the little hand go round?' Then finally, 'tell me a story in your own words . . .' now for somebody whose reading material was the Hotspur, the Skipper and the Adventure, I really showed a low animal cunning! I ignored everything I had read in these weeklies and moved decidedly up-market. From somewhere in my memory, I related the story of the Ancient Greek, Pheidipides, who ran from Athens to Sparta and back. Very impressive! Thus, in September of that year, I was one of the new intake to hear our new Headmaster, Mr. Bryn Thomas, tell us that he would rather know that we had come to school with a breakfast inside us than to worry about school uniform.

This last sentence of the foregoing paragraph forces me to lay aside my tinted spectacles as the reality of the Thirties had obtruded. Shortage of money did not worry us kids, but this was in the Thirties with its mass unemployment, the Dole and the Means Test. Shortage of money must have meant that many of our parents were at their wits end in trying to manage their daily affairs. We children, by our very thoughtlessness, could exacerbate an already fraught situation. 

I cannot remember how old I was, perhaps about ten, when I acquired a new navy-blue suit from our local draper, for a few shillings a week. The first Sunday I wore it, I climbed some railings with the inevitable result! The back of the coat caught on a spike and it was ripped from top to bottom. Absolutely panic-stricken, I ran to my grandmother's, who had been blind for many years, yet knew me by sound and touch. She soothed my tears and asked for the coat so that she could attempt a repair, sending me off in the meantime on an errand. I returned to find the coat repaired with the neatest stitching imaginable . . . but then the horror of the situation hit my already panic stricken brain . . . she had used red cotton! I faced my mother, expecting a buffet around the head and an angry telling off. It did not come. She took my little blue jacket with its red stitching and just sat down. No sobbing . . . just the tears running silently down her cheeks. Even now, I remember the taste of salt as I kissed her and pleaded with her to stop.

There must have been many such occasions in this time span when our parents felt defeated, I have only related one, although I know I was involved in many more! Thank God, they never gave up but doggedly carried on to provide us with love in a happy home environment from which we were launched to live our own lives.

Looking back can be fun, but not always will one's thoughts be of a rosy hue as reality will intrude, but by telling the whole story, the social history of one's family and community can be passed on to the safe keeping of future generations.

Bryn was born in Mumbles in 1922 and lived in Gloucester Place. He joined the Royal Navy in 1936 and became a Telegraphist. He survived the loss of his ship, HMS Repulse, which with her sister-ship, the HMS Prince of Wales sank following bombing by the Japanese in the South China Seas. Bryn served for over a quarter of a century achieving the coveted rank of Chief Petty Officer in the Greenwich Naval College. 'Nostalgia' was written in 1984 following his return to Swansea. He now resides in Sketty, sadly not enjoying robust health and is virtually blind. This does not dampen his ardour for life or suppress his warm humour.

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