Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
(Isaac Watts (1674-1748))
Today is the 28th anniversary of my mother’s death. She’s buried along with her mother and father in Blaina Cemetery:
Her funeral took place on a sunny day too. On the surrounding gravestones, I read family names that were familiar in my youth: Coburn, Gore, Legge, Jelley, and Dimmick. They were tradespeople and friends of my grandparents and uncles:
I suspect that my mortal remains may be put to rest here one day. No other place beckons, either emotionally or logically. In any case, it would be appropriate to be buried beneath the shadow of the mountain under which I’d lived for so long. This is ancestral ground. I sense that my periodic visits here are as much a preparation for death as they are a commemoration of the dead.
The place has a haunting ambience, one that’s created as much by sonority and as by the appearance of place. The Arael serves as a sounding board which reflects sounds back upon the cemetery. The almost constant muffled engine thrust of airplanes passing high above (the valley is directly beneath the flight path between the UK and the USA and Canada), the muted-drone of transport in the middle distance, and the brittle-breeze passing through the trees, combine consolingly.
11.30 pm. I took a short bus ride to Blaina’s town centre, which consists of one street only, at the top of which my grandparents lived. Blaina was my second home, as young boy. The town has two buildings that struck me then, and still, as remarkable: the Post Office and Salem Baptist Chapel. They’re situated directly opposite one another. The former is reminiscent of a Roman-villa style:
The latter, one of the finest examples of classical-style chapel in Wales:
At the top of the street, I discovered the remains of a monumental mason’s shop. It appears to have been abandoned, with headstones and plinths — either in preparation or under repair — strewn about the yard, and unclaimed:
I’m also photographing those parts of the town that have travelled through time with me. Like, for example, the wall at the top of the High Street’s rise, along which I’d run my hand as I ran towards my grandfather’s arms on the days that I visited:
It’s difficult to find enough to see and do for more than an hour in Blaina. 1.30 pm. I returned to Marenghi’s Café, Abertillery, for a late lunch. Today, I savoured the delights of their bacon and egg toastie. This is certainly one that I’ll add to be own culinary repertoire:
2.30 pm. I took a bus to Crumlin (once spanned by the great viaduct ) and from there to Croespenmaen to visit two of the few members of my family that I’ve left in South Wales. In this part of the world, older female relatives greet you with a kiss … on the lips. Outsiders find this ritual a little shocking. But it’s a very sincere, and an intimate expression of committed familial affection. Her husband collects flowering cacti and small-gauge model railway stock, about which he can talk with considerable knowledge and enthusiasm for a very long time:
On this occasion we were joined by their two grandchildren, who they were babysitting with the patience and energy of parents. The children were sparky, socially-able, respectful, and intelligent. The little girl took a shine to me. Well …
Back at Newport, I treated myself to a late dinner: one of the best and hottest lamb curries that I’ve ever had. It’s true, eating hot food makes you sweat, and sweating makes you cooler. An early night.
Observations for today from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 15, 2015- ), 26-7:
I’ve seen a generation pass / one day, with time, this valley, too, will disappear, and the world perish like a burning coal / in the old Blaina cemetery, during the early 1970s, one of the headstones began to glow / two women sit on a steps of a family vault, smoking / ‘change and decay in all around I see’ / this is why the concepts of eternity and immutability are so important / these thing are, in part, what the Arael signifies