Then – And Then – And Now

Long ago and far away… well, not so very far away, by Dad and I would go to the river to watch for fish. We’d stand very still on either bridge or bank and penetrate the rapid flowing water with our beading eyes. We were refugees, fleeing from the “doodlebingo” that fell about our home in north Surrey. By Day was a probation officer who, like a policeman, was in a “retained service “, not required to go to war.
Daniel Hopkins was a member of Parliament for Carmarthenshire and also a Stripendany Magistrate who oversaw the court in the Old Bailey where my father worked. From time to time Dan Hopkins would pick out some tired looking man working in his court to come to his chambers when the day’s work was done. There he would hand the man the keys to Myrtle Cottage in Lanfihangel-on-Arth in far away Wales. Luckily, the train ran through the village where we ended the twelve hour journey, tired and hungry.
In later years a pre -war Austin Seven took us there, NJ 9676 my parents initials, Nora and John followed by a magic number.
In Wales when Mammy went to shop in those wartime years, she took the family’s ration books and set them on the wooden counter in front of the post- master Jones. Without looking at them, he pushed them back towards her and asked her what she wanted. There were foot square blocks of cheese and butter on the marble slabs behind him and bacon hung from the ceiling. In London we queued in separate lines for bread and for potatoes, here abundance thrived on every side. Daddy trudged up the hill every morning to The Eagles for a half a pint of bitter and a pint of milk that more often than not, I had watched Nancy draw from the cow. I met the wrens that lived in a nest in the dry stone wall beside the steep road, with their ten tiny eggs my Daddy showed me.
And we sat by the river watching for fish and seeing Kingfishers by the water and high above us they glided, moving buzzards also seeking food. We would skim thin flat stones across the fleeing waters counting to see how many times the stone touched the surface of the stream, twice was good, three times better and four times a mini miracle. That was when eyes were sharp and ears could hear and everyone greeted on another when they encountered them, stranger of friend, on the pathways in the local towns with smiles. We were taught “When you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours “. Today, it feels as though, if you did that, it wouldn’t be long before you’d be surrounded with men in white coats……
Long ago and far away – when Daddy retired and we all came home to Ireland, herons still competed for the fish in the river, but there was so much more space for people. I remember a little Japanese girl standing in a neighbours garden, she spread her arms as wide as she could and turned in a slow circle. “ I can’t do that at home” she said “without touching someone “. So we took a picnic to the beach down the road to celebrate beside the cold Atlantic.