Troed Y Bryn is a simple terrace of seven small houses that nestles under the Cribarth mountain on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales. It sits in a road side lay by left like a river’s winding oxbow from the main road. The continuous two story terrace stands high above the road and look out towards the river Tawe. The river Tawe is a sparkling green river that emerges a few miles up the green valley from underground at the mysterious silent maze of dark caves called Dan Yr Ogof. It’s a river that turns sandstone red and the river that grinds and grumbles boulders down it’s bed when in drowning spate. It’s the river that the atlantic salmon jump in the spring and the river that kids from the council houses steal the freshly released, dumb brown trout from by using bits of tin foil or pieces of cheap yellow cheddar cheese for bait.
The main road swishes wet as cars pass towards the brown hills of the Brecon Beacons and there is a bright red victorian cast iron post office box planted like a traffic light on the green grass dividing the terrace and the main road.
Behind the houses are the stunted oak trees that cover the boulder fields at the bottom of the mountain where huge, tasty parasol mushrooms grow in the wet autumn mornings.
The Darlo bar is typical inner city high traffic groovy Australian pub. Pool table, mainstream beers with a couple of designer beers nestling at frozen the counter taps. I sit on a tall stool by the open street window nursing an early spring, warm velvet Sydney sky evening schooner with a clean shaven, hip young barrister friend. He presents perfectly in his tailor made pin stripe suit, polished black brogues, neatly trimmed and gelled hair, art house tie and pressed cotton shirt. We idly cast our glance over the assembled social crowd of professionals and groovers who chat and cheerily knock back beers and wines as the sky gradually darkens outside.
A good looking young woman in a tightly plunging polka dot dress and black stilettos rolls a lusty, appraising and casually interested eye over the barrister.
The barrister ticks all the modern boxes: highly educated, well paid, reliable, attitudinally new age, something of a catch for a single woman considering her future needs that include platinum credit cards, lie flat business class travel, mountainous private school fees, organic groceries and a comfortable home close to the action but just far enough away to be safe and quiet.
I quietly comment on the lingering gaze she held for the barrister, he responds by laughing aloud and telling me that ‘for every shoe there is a sock’.
The welsh terrace is a neat set of seven houses and number four sits bang in the middle. The old woman in number one was bad tempered and shouted a bit, Bryn and Dolly lived in number two. Bryn was a retired miner and had his own little private coal mine in the outdoor toilet on the far side of the common lane way that ran around the back of the terrace. He would go out in the mornings and mine his retired miner’s allowance of coal that was stored there. A free ton of coal every year for retired miners to compensate for the black coal scars on his hands and his back and the desperate dangers of underground mining. In number three was the retired old dairy farmer from Pen Y Cae, wheezing with hay dusted farmer’s lungs as he boiled the breakfast kettle, a white droplet forming on the end of his nose as the aluminum kettle whistled on the gas stove. Quite amazingly, his sexy, owl eyed, mini skirted grand daughter coincidentally turned up as an account executive in an advertising agency that I worked for years later in London. We used to drop a ‘lost’ Amex card on the floor next to her desk and then whisk it away on invisible black cotton as she bent over to pick it up.
In number five the pious religious couple next door would trudge up the main road to the chapel every Sunday. She is pudgily over weight and he has a bald head and moves slowly in the garden picking green beans from hazel stick supported plantings. Raymond is robustly in his forties, flat cap, farm boots and olive green oilskin jacket, his plain wife wife and primary school uniformed daughter lived in number six and a shy, bespectacled thin grey haired old lady who always wears a cotton print housecoat smiles and says very little as she peers out into the lane way at the end of the terrace at number seven.
The tap water at Troed Y Bryn came straight off the mountain. No purification, no chlorine, just a stunning, rounded cool tasting water that can never be replicated anywhere. So good that on the other side of the mountain they sealed it up in beautiful blue bottles and sold in expensive eateries the world over. And just a taste of this blue bottled water immediately evokes the rounded limestone view of the Cribarth Mountain from my kitchen window no matter where you drink it.
The main room of my terrace, number four had a cream enameled Rayburn stove downstairs that came out of one of the council houses up the road and was bought as scrap and lovingly restored. It burnt all winter on timber supplied for cash by a friend. The split wood was stacked head height against the front wall of the terrace. The Rayburn heated the water, ran the radiators and boiled kettles and soups on the hotplate. It was lit in October and if it went out before April it was a tragedy. The wood arrived as large cross cuts on the back of a flat bed trailer dragged by a ancient rusty red tractor that belched blue smoke from it’s vertical exhaust. The cross cut tree sections were tipped off the trailer and thrown up onto the pocket handkerchief front lawn. I always selected the worst, knotty cross cut to use as a chopping block and split the rest of the load into stove sized blocks split wooden handle felling axe. It took nearly a day to split a supply for the whole, long winter but there was a certain satisfaction in swinging the axe, cracking open the fresh smelling timber and then piling the split wood up against the front wall where it stayed mostly dry or dried very quickly after the winter rainstorms and snowstorms battered and splattered the slate roofs of the terrace.
We always got dressed up nice and went to the pub on a Friday evening, walking down the road a mile and up the long rise to the village. This was the pub that was the social hub of all of the local terraces. The pub heaved with single young people, ‘Friday Night Millionaires’ we called them. We stood in what was the pub’s huge old open fireplace just inside the front door and chatted to mates, drank long thin glass pints of beer, looked at the girls and sometimes gently ribbed and joshed some of the girls from up the road. The girls were a tight little club of friends and ribbed us back, laughing through mascara, shining lip gloss and crimped hair. Sometimes the girls came back to number four and we all went up stairs to the big sitting room that looked out through the two large sash windows into the night. The turntable and stereo was there, and we played shiny black vinyl LP’s withdrawn religiously from their big square cardboard sleeves. We laughed into the night and sometime a giggling girl would creep up into my big attic and stay over, her high heels parked drunkenly on the floor beside the bed under the skylight.
Sometimes we woke up with headaches, the pious old chapel fellow from next door would scowl at me, Raymond from number six would grin knowingly from inside his olive green farmer’s jacket but Bryn and Dolly would have heard the laughter and music the night before. They would stand in the front door of their house and smile at me with my hair twisted up and my head pounding from too much rich nutty beer as I gathered up the split wood from the front of the house to feed the Rayburn stove.
Bryn would smile his chipped tooth smile and Dolly’s gleaming dentures would grin through her faintly bluish old lips.
Bryn would call out “Hey hap socks, one over the eight last night” meaning that I was hungover because I’d drunk more than eight pints of beer in the cheerfully noisy pub and I would laugh and say “something like that Bryn”. He’s laugh again and say to Dolly “hell of a boy” and she’d grin again and then slide inside to make some more tea.
Bryn used to call me hap socks because in welsh ‘hap’ means without, quite often I wore my lace up leather shoes with no socks at all because I liked it that way.
The days, years and decades have marched their way away into the past and Bryn and Dolly and all of the others that lived in Troed Y Bryn have made their way quietly one by one into the silent black marble tombstones with gold engraved letters in the graveyard at the chapel just up the road from the terrace.
And I without socks, sit in a cool inner city Sydney bar with a well dressed barrister who comments that for every shoe there is a sock, for every shoe there is a sock except perhaps for me; ‘Hap Socks’.
Sydney, September, 2013