When I was born, on August 12 1960, I was the only child of my parents living in a small village on the Lleyn Peninsula of North Wales called Efailnewydd. They had moved there after my father, Thomas John Griffith (known to many as TJ), had been made Minister of the Presbyterian chapels of Efailnewydd, Rhydyclafdy and Llanor. A bit of a culture shock for them as they were both working in Manchester when they got together. My father was Minister of the Welsh Chapels in Altincham and Warrington and Mum, Ann Elizabeth Williams, was the matron of the school for deaf children in the city. It could have all been very different though. My father had been offered a 3 year stay in Melbourne looking after the Welsh chapel there but his father was taken Ill and later died. I can’t imagine me being an Aussie.
When Dad was in Manchester he had a health scare himself when he had a stomach ulcer and had major surgery to remove a portion of it, it was recommended after by his surgeon that a less hectic parish would benefit him. Efailnewydd, Rhydyclafdy and Llanor definitely fitted the bill.
When I was born, it was found that I had a spinal cord malformation called Spina Bifida. This means that the spinal cord does not knit together properly in the womb and in the gap that’s left a small cyst grows. This cyst stops the nerve signals going to the lower limbs in some cases and can also affect bladder and or bowel control. Back in 1960, the place for treatment in the UK was the children’s hospital at Alder Hey. They had a team there led by an Austrian Neuro surgeon called Professor Richam. Therefore, I was transferred from St David’s hospital, Bangor over to Liverpool. I was then operated on to remove the cyst and close up the damage to my back.
As is the case with many babies born with Spina Bifida, they can also have a condition called Hydrocephalus. This is a raised pressure caused by fluid forming within the space between the brain and the skull. In order to reduce this pressure a procedure was carried out. A valve was placed within the cavity with a pipe to the abdomen to drain away the fluid and reducing the pressure.
This valve was known as a SpizHalter valve. Named after a surgeon from a children’s hospital in Cincinnati and a local engineer who had lost a child to the condition. Thankfully all went well. Shortly after, they found that the position of my cyst meant I had paralysis in my right leg and also bladder weakness. This meant that I had to have corrective surgery on my right leg. This was done by an orthopedic surgeon called Mr Dwyer.
For those who remember a drama series called ‘Hadleigh’ in the 70’s, Hadleigh’s wife was played by Mr Dwyer’s daughter, Hilary. My earliest claim to fame. My parents told me years later that when Mr Dwyer used to come on the ward he would check his handy work and say, ‘you’ve got lovely legs’. Not sure he would say that now! In fact, I would worry if he did. One thing which worried my parents at that time was the fact I was in Liverpool and was not going to hear Welsh spoken. Luckily a couple of the nurses on the ward we’re Welsh. From what I have been told I was a happy baby as long as I was fed! Something that happens still to be true. In fact, when I cried for food on the ward one of the nurses used to say, ‘Your steak isn’t ready yet Dai’.
After 9 months as an honourary Scouser I was considered well enough to be sent home. This was going to be a huge life changing experience for my family but my Mum’s nursing background and Dad’s Christian faith was something they both fell back on many times in the time we lived in Efailnewydd. In fact, before I headed home for the first time rumours were rife in the village. People were saying that the minister’s son was very poorly and wouldn’t live very long. What was most surprising was the fact that the rumours were being spread by a retired district nurse. Thankfully, I was recovering well but had my legs in a a double plaster which made me heavy to carry.
So, my home life started and like many disabled children back then you were the centre of attention. I think that throughout history societies large and small have always been wary of difference. Something the political difference s brought about by Brexit have made crystal clear since 2016. We seem to expect to be surrounded by a group of like-minded people and if we aren’t we worry.
When my first Easter arrived I had dozens of Easter Eggs. It’s a wonder I didn’t become diabetic. The family sent some to the hospital in Pwllheli, the nearest town. It’s hard to believe that back in 1960 my Dad didn’t have a car. Something all clergymen would consider essential today. If he needed to travel out of the area someone I knew as Uncle Dick Galltberen leant him a big black car.
We were only to stay in Efailnewydd for 4 years before Dad was offered a new parish. When he had been in college he told his fellow students that he had been to a town called Blaenau Ffestiniog the previous Sunday to preach. He said it was dark and depressing and he was not in a hurry to return. It was ironic therefore that he married my Mum, who was born and brought up there, and Blaenau was the new parish on offer. After a lot of conversations with my Mum and others he went to see the place properly and took another service there before deciding we would give it a try. Part of the thinking was my education. Which I will discuss later.
I loved Blaenau, we lived there 12 years and my roots are there. I am now nearly 60 and left aged 16 and still consider Blaenau home. The people are friendly. There seemed to be no class structure in towns society. If you had any airs and grace’s you wouldn’t last long there. People knew each other and cared for those in their neighbourhood. Something which is not as common today more’s the pity. When we lived in Efailnewydd our home was a small house next to an amazing couple. Who I referred to as Uncle Harris and Aunty Hughes as I couldn’t say her first name. They were so helpful to my parents. They would take me next door when my Mum needed to do certain things around the house As they had a TV I got to see Andy Pandy, Bill and Ben, Pinky and Perky a the Wooden Tops. When we moved to Blaenau we lived in a house with a large garden and the house even had a third floor which housed an attic. It was built for the manager of a quarry that produced efailnewydd, Blaenau and it’s people along with my family are the answer to the question at the beginning of this post ‘Who is Huw?