A French Connection

When you are brought up by a Presbyterian Minister and his Wife in the 1960’s and 70’s then one thing is certain, there is not money around for luxuries. When you are at home though you see your life as normal and not notice what other people have.

The time when that changed was when that little box entered the corner of the front room called a television. You then saw the adverts on ITV. Like any other child I then learnt that phrase ‘Can I have’. Sadly, for many families in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area there were times when the answer had to be no. Thankfully, it wasn’t always the case.

Today, foreign holidays are taken by many families even when their children are small. Places like Disney world and Euro Disney are very popular destinations.

It wasn’t until the early 70s that my parents could afford holidays in a hotel. They found a small, family run hotel in the village of Dinas Dinlle near Caernarfon called Plas Tan Dinas which had a room adapted for wheelchairs. We loved it as a family and had a few summer breaks there.

When you look at your childhood after decades have passed. It’s strange the things which stick in your memory. When we went on one trip to Plans Tan Dina’s it decided to rain nearly the whole week. I had been given a board game called ‘Mastermind’. Where you place a row of different coloured pegs behind a cover and your opponent and a number of goes to replicate what you had placed behind the cover. By the middle of the weeks we had a competition going between different families.

On another holiday we heard on the radio that the Welsh singer, comedian and actor Ryan Davies had died on a trip to the US. Like many others, my parents were devastated.

On yet another we woke to hear that President Nixon had been forced to resign after the famous Watergate scandal. I have the feeling that this is what created my lifelong interest in politics and current affairs. We could see history repeating itself as the Democrats are trying to force President Trump out of office. Political life all over the world seems very unstable. We shall leave that to another post.

In 1974, the school decided to send a group from the senior dormitories along with children from Erw’r Delyn on a camping trip to Bayeux in Normandy. This had come about after Ysgol Gogarth sent a group to camp at Carnac in Brittany the previous summer.

I have not got a clue why that destination was chosen unless it was down to the fact it was an anniversary for D Day. We traveled in our coach down to Penarth, stayed the night and traveled from there to Southampton.

To my surprise, on my first trip on a ferry I was not seasick at all. We got out of our wheelchair and into these reclining chairs and tried to sleep.

Early next morning we arrived in the port of Le Havre. It was then a not small matter of getting all of us back on the coach and over to the Bayeux district of Normandy. We then found our campsite and rested.

For most of our time in the Bayeux area we seemed to visit places like Aromanche, Caen and Saint Marie Eglise. All connected to the D Day landing beaches. I was amazed by the engineering that went into the Mulberry pontoon harbour, the remains we could see from the promenade.

When you are brought up by a pacifist who had been a conscientious objector, alongside his brother, in World War 2, it was a place which gave me mixed emotions. These were heightened when our group visited the llied and German war cemeteries in the surrounding area. Emrys Roberts, the Deputy Head, went with me to look at some graves. We saw some from both our home towns in slate mining areas.

You will be pleased to know we had some lighter moments on that trip. Like myself and a school friend,John Pritchard, buying and drinking Stella. I was also asked by Emrys Roberts to practice my French and asked a shopkeeper if he could speak English. To my surprise he answered, ‘Yes I come from Ipswich’. John told me he went to get a film developed and the shop owner came from Conwy.

That trip was something I have never forgotten. I have been to France since but would love to learn French well as my Niece Erin did to work there.