30 March 2015

Arrre-yuw-a WITCH Mrs Jones ?

Superstitions, fears and flights of fancy are a powerful force playing on the minds of children and adults alike.  Subject to a wide range of regional variation.

My mother Betty was brought up in the Rhonda Valley, South Wales, and told of the walk to her school down the valley, seven miles there and seven miles back, past the scary garden frontage of Mrs Jones (the witch). Young children would challenge Mrs Jones across the garden wall, with the question; "Are you a witch Mrs Jones?" and run, terrified of the chase, all the way to school, unseen drama coloured by their imagination.

 Bute Street, Treherbert.  The sky is grey the roads and walls and roofs are grey.

The hills are grey with slag heaps and coal waste and the river runs stained black.

The picture dates from circa 1930 - Today the valleys are re-forrested and green once more.

As well as fearing the unseen, my mother shunned playing cards, the black cat crossing the road, tea leaves in the bottom of the cup and those fearful adjacent colours, red and white, to be avoided at all cost.

To ignore her every word would be disrespectful. Surely black cats can sometimes be lucky; can't they?  The celtic origins of  Wales retain a strong mystical cultural to this day.

Her father Miah Argust was a miner and down the pit at 14 years of age, until a back injury halted underground working. A promotion to engine driver of the winding gear at the pit head followed.


My paternal grandfather Lionel told tales of the unexpected, more tangible here in sunny Devon.

I would listen  to his story, often told, of the smuggler caught and mysteriously released by local sympathisers; fishermen plied the jailer with alcohol and urgent requests to see the Frenchman locked in Dawlish jail. He was soon freed to smuggle another day. My forebears are local to this seaside resort over many generations and I feel this saga rings true from the frequency and unvarying way it was related to me by my grandfather.

He would also recollect the day he first saw my grandmother and vividly describe  her rosy pink cheeks as she walked a country lane in the company of friends. So many times told, the account had to be true.  

South Devon Smugglers were most successful about here

His forebears came over with the Danes and settled in Devon from across the sea. His Nordic sentiment was woven into the total denial of all things painful, the stiff upper lip was all important. If something hurt, too bad  - pretend it's not hurting and it will cease to hurt.  To endure pain at the point of a sword was a privilege.

DNA ancestory by "23andme" suggests my Nordic roots are there from the 16th centuary

Why I dread the dentists chair is a mystery. Today's proceedures verging on the pain free, but I remember my first encounters with the drill that was turned by a series of wheels and whirring cord on articulated gantry, grinding away at my sweet tooth. Fear of the drill reinforced by a later dentist too fond of his whisky bottle. In his chair it was the needle hitting my jaw bone and thrust into my gum in blunted state a second time. 

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