It’ll be better for the children,’ the wife said. ‘Pembrokeshire’s beautiful and has to have a better climate than at home – please, I love the house, let’s buy it.
It was a blind leap of faith. With a little bit of research we would have found out Pembrokeshire was one of the wettest counties in Britain. But there was no such thing as Google in those days – and besides, whenever we went there on holiday, the sun always shone.
And the children had been very ill with measles and whooping cough and the doctor had said we needed to move to somewhere milder, warmer.
So the decision was made.
I packed in my job with the optimistic words of the wife echoing in my ears; ‘you’re a qualified electrician; you’ll get a job anywhere,’ said goodbye to lifelong friends with my promise of keeping in touch and their promise of, ‘we’ll come and see you next summer; have a holiday with you,’ and, with much grinding of my teeth to keep smiling throughout all the recriminations of family, who insisted in declaring we were moving to the ends of the earth, we put one life behind us and looked with optimism towards a new future.
The day we moved in it pissed down all day; I remember thinking, better climate my arse. At least back home we knew what to expect every morning when we got up and looked through the window. The village we lived in on the Pennine moors was either shrouded in mist so thick you could almost taste it, or the rain was coming down in stair rods, swept almost horizontal by the wind. In summer, even though the sun shone you could be blown off your feet as soon as you set foot outside. And in winter you’d be snowed in for weeks.
So, with each mile nearer to our new home I became more disenchanted. Looking back to the day we viewed the new house I suddenly remembered wiping the muck off the inside of that bedroom window and looking out, thinking it wasn’t really a village; just shops and a road with houses. At least in the place we’d lived in since we were kids, there were five pubs, three churches, a Labour Club and A Con club (actually, thinking back, that was an apt name for the Conservative Club, bearing in mind today’s Government). Anyhow, as I said five pubs, three churches, two clubs – a good ratio that covered all options.
Driving along the winding exposed roads on the tops after Newtown we passed a straggling line of men.
‘I wonder what they’re doing,’ the wife said.
‘Minding their own bloody business,’ I muttered, peering through the windscreen. Forty miles back the windscreen wipers developed a judder and threatened to give up the ghost. So every now and then I’d have to wind my window down and give them a shove. With every blast of cold air the kids howled, my wife’s chin quivered with a contrived brave smile and my jacket sleeve became more sodden. A few miles further on I realised they could have been a group of poor immigrants, wearily making their way away from Wales and I was seriously on the verge of turning around and offering some of them a lift back with me to England. I could have, squashed them in somehow.
Earlier that morning, when the removal van and the car were packed up to the gills with our life’s necessities I joked we were taking everything with us bar the kitchen sink.
When we got to the house in Pembrokeshire I wished we had brought the kitchen sink. Oh and the bath. The guy who’d built the house had gone bankrupt and he’d stripped the place before the Receiver stepped in. There was no water, no electricity, no heating – it was November and we had three kids under three. And there was definitely no telephone to let the rest of the family that we’d arrived. Which, as it turned out, wasn’t a bad thing; the babies were screaming, the toddler was throwing a right paddy because we’d lost her comfort blanket and the wife was skriking.
I put my arms around all four of them and asked her, ‘are you sorry we’ve moved?’
‘No,’ she wailed, ‘I love this house.’
Three weeks later it was still raining; boy did it bloody rain.
And then the cold weather set in and the pipes froze. And so did we.
I went to the Job Centre and was sent to the Benefits Agency. They wanted to know everything except the size and make of my underpants. ‘Sod that for a soldier,’ I said, ‘I’ll start up on my own.’
So, with fingerless mittens donned, the wife dragged out her old typewriter, typed a whole load of leaflets and, with the twins in the pushchair and the eldest balanced on the handle, trooped off to push them through letter boxes.
We’d managed to get the electricity and water turned back on the week we arrived and so while she was out I carried on installing the kitchen sink and a bathroom suite. They’d used up most of our savings. Carpets came later, much later. So, because of this and because the house was larger than the last one we lived in and because the furniture was spread so thinly between the all rooms the place echoed emptily; the table, two chairs and three high chairs presiding in splendid isolation in the dining room, thirty foot by twenty, with no curtains.
When I could afford the petrol, I got in the car and ventured further afield delivering more leaflets. I put an advert in the local newspaper.
And then we waited – and waited.
We didn’t starve; the wife worked bloody wonders with vegetables, chicken and mince. And we kept warm with the little heater that we trailed from room to room, wherever we were in the house, and saved electricity by going to bed with hot water bottles when it got dark.
And still we waited, avoiding one another’s eyes over the of the children’s heads, refusing to put words to our fear. To failure.
And then one day there was a knock on the front door; my first job. Such a relief, I can tell you.
And, to cut a long, a bloody long story, short, it took off from there. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, that there weren’t times when the money didn’t come in, that I didn’t have sleepless nights worrying over unpaid bills and red reminders.
Or that,nearly thirty-seven years later, I don’t look back on that wet depressing journey, that day in November of nineteen seventy-eight and remember the sheer terror as we made that blind leap of faith.
PS. Thought I’d show you a few of my photos as well. Hope you like them.
PPS From ‘the wife’ – if I ever heard him calling me ‘the wife’, he’d know what for!!! (In other words he’d be packed off to his shed… where he still has that old heater!l)