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My wife, in typically stoic fashion, returned to work just six weeks after giving birth to our first son. Back then Sarah was manager of a group home for two Down’s adults on the outskirts of Swansea, so had to do shifts, which included sleep-ins.

I was working as a part-time lecturer at the local college and also as an ad hoc draftsman for an engineering company in Llandeilo. This meant I was out three days of the week, but home every evening. …


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He was escorted the short distance across the glistening tarmac from Swansea Central to the new sports shop he was about to open.

My grandmother took me. Come on boy she said and lifted me as high above the buzz as she could manage, which wasn’t much for a dumpy little woman in her fifties. I patted him on the back as he went in. I remember a huge head with thick brown hair and the smell of aftershave. It was like he had his own gravity the way people pressed towards him.

Gran shoved me through the steaming overcoated and anoraked bodies to stand in front of the hero, the man who’d WON THE WORLD CUP. Three goals in the final — a hat-trick, I’d later learn. The poster he signed for me confused at first. In the massive picture he wore the claret of his club, West Ham, not the red of England in which he’d won. …


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Ian ‘Jungles’ Jones was a one off. I first got to know him when he over zealously pogoed out of a window to the Skids on the jukebox at the Half Moon Inn in Garnant. He picked himself up and carried on pogoing outside in the beer garden until the song finished. “Into the Valley”, I was impressed.

He was a natural clown, the first you’d call when arranging a night out, assured to be never less than doubled over with laughter. But sadness also followed him around like an evil ginger twin. …


My roles in life in chronological order

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Being, infant son, apple of their eye, grandson, nephew, cousin, citizen, Cymro Cymraeg, enforced Christian, toddler, mother’s chocolate pudding, patient, small boy, wonderer at the world, dog owner, watcher with mother, visitor, learner, little artist, reader, playmate, passenger, Bampa’s little horse, schoolboy, cinema goer, chapel goer, third wise man, friend, dirt collector, bychan Arthur Goss, singer, reciter, Barbara Goss’ boy, Gran’s little bugger, football fan, owner of treasured Geoff Hurst autograph, street games afficionado, den builder, Auntie Maria’s nose borer, Tufty Club member, day tripper, televison watcher, European Citizen, reluctant choirboy, horse rider, Panini card collector, Atheist, rugby fan, consumer, swimmer, secondary school boy, local adventurer, failed fisherman, part-time labourer, military modeller (Airfix division), Hornby Railways enthusiast, winner of silver jubilee drawing competition, Stanley Gibbons Stamp Club member, daydreamer, member of the National Geographic Society, mountain man, Mayfly Boy Scout, royalty refusenik, pen-pal, book club member, chess club member, theatre goer, music fan, record buyer, disco dancer, park bench snogger, pub-goer, punk rocker, sixth former, reluctant prefect, Thatcher hater, young adult, driver, jogger, passport holder, overseas traveller, boyfriend, lover, painter, print maker, mourner, worker, tax payer, student, gym goer, squash player, weight trainer, summertime dole boy, lodger, fleeting rugby player, car owner, prospective son-in-law, fiancée, technical illustrator, tenant, tutor, premature male-pattern-baldness victim, usher, overworked designer, singleton, man about town, jetsetter, lodger again, nightclub denizen, toy-boy, almost traveller, head-over-heels-in-lover, groom, husband, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, surrogate cat owner, patchy beard sporter, globe trotter, circumnavigator, freelancer, homeowner, Destroy-It-Yerselfer, part-time builder/ gardener/ electrician/ carpenter/ decorator, orphan, father to Evan, landlord, rugby sufferer, ad hoc design draftsman, commuter, house seller, house buyer, dad to Megan, Bachelor of Arts (Hons), graphic designer, part-time lecturer, qualified lecturer, self-employed designer, website designer, sole trader, father to Gareth, employer, launch guest, business partner, director, father to Bryn, resident of Derwen Fawr, custodian of oak trees, Sarah’s Sweetheart, archer, designer of the Scarlets logo, post-graduate student, he-who-may-be-sat-upon-by-cats, Swansea Digital Futures steering committee member, Dunvant RFC committee member, Labour Party member, ex-Labour Party member, Swansea Civil Service Cricketer, Master of Arts, second home owner, landlord again, cricket scorer, writer, portrait artist, Remoaner, published author, desperately sad former Citizen of Europe, member of Yes Cymru, befuddled middle aged man, hopeful rejoiner, prospective Santa. …


Confessions of a Boot Boy

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While cleaning my wife’s little boots yesterday I began thinking of how much I’ve always loved the task. It’s a satisfying process to scrape off mud and detritus, to brush vigorously before applying polish, waiting for it to soak in for a few minutes, then buffing to a high shine with a soft brush and cloth. I sometimes indulge myself further by applying a layer of Dubbin, a greasy salve that helps waterproof and further shine and protect the shoe.

When my four children were little it was my Sunday afternoon job to polish their school shoes in readiness for the week ahead. I loved the whole process and the reason for doing it. It was a tangible symbol of my love for them and a demonstration of it to the world I was sending them out into. It had a value akin to that of clothing them in a warm, waterproof coat in winter, evidence that I was doing my job as a dad. …


Faded pictures in the hallway. Which of them brown ghosts is he?
Aisling, Shane MacGowan

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One of my favourite photographs of my mother is of her smiling, alone in a windswept pac-a-mac and headscarf in front of a rocky outcrop. On the back it says “Snowdon Summit. Sept 58” in her clear handwriting that is still so familiar to me. She obviously liked the photo enough to have labelled it, anchoring it in time and place.

It comes from a battered biscuit tin full of old photographs. The box is dark green with a leaf and fence pattern that reeks of the late fifties. I’ve known it my whole life. Through my childhood it sat in the bottom cupboard of my mother’s reproduction Welsh dresser. When she died it came to our house in Swansea and was put up on a shelf with our own albums for a while. We moved soon after and the box found its way into my uncle’s old pine dresser in our dining room. As the stack of school photographs of our children grew, the box was eased out of place and found its refuge for the last fifteen years on the top shelf of my back office. …


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As the intro began I caught a deep, unmistakable whiff of 1982.

The innocence of sleeping children
Dressed in white and slowly dreaming
Stops all time

“Primary” by The Cure. When I hear it now, I am transported to the back bedroom of my parents’ house that looked out over their lovingly tended garden and my dad’s greenhouse.

It was a bright, airy room I’d decorated myself — buttermilk walls with salmon pink woodwork and a frieze of tulips around the window. What was I thinking? But then I’d also installed some blue spotlights that gave the room an eerie atmosphere and made it impossible to read in without another lamp. I had a bed, a portable black and white TV, a bureau and a wardrobe (both of which I’d also painted and stencilled). I’d often sit in my late grandmother’s Edwardian armchair I’d somehow acquired, with my drawing board on my lap. The windowsill was full of cacti and houseplants I’d had a brief fascination with — the ubiquitous Mother-in-Law’s tongue, an Aluminium plant, Peperomia, Rabbit’s Foot and a Rubber plant. …


Read the graffiti about slashed seat affairs
(Paul Weller, The Jam, That’s Entertainment)

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All through my childhood I travelled by bus. My father was a very reluctant driver, so if we were going anywhere far (over ten miles) we took the bus. As my mother didn’t drive we went everywhere by bus if my dad was working. We took tortuous journeys to Swansea, shopping trips to Ammanford or just down the road to my grandparents or my aunties if it was raining.

Apart from these everyday journeys we would also have gone on the annual summer ‘Club Trip’ from the Working Men’s Club in Brynamman to Tenby or Porthcawl (we even went on an ambitiously distant day out to St David’s once). These were interminably long journeys on comparatively plush coaches packed with nattering mothers and their overexcited children. The reward of a glittering seaside, ice cream, and sand in every orifice by the end of the day made the journey worthwhile, just about. The trip back with sunburn chafing against the velour seats with only a daubing with calamine lotion to look forward to when we got home was less enjoyable. …


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I had been driving (off road) for as long as I could reach the pedals. My dad was a stonemason and I worked with him in the school holidays. He liked me to ferry him from the churchyard gate up to the grave site we were working on. He got a kick out of getting out to open the gate while I scooched across to the driver’s seat before leaping onto the bonnet for a ride as I reversed shakily up the access road.

As soon as I was old enough he took me up the Black Mountain to practice and I soon got the hang of the winding country roads. I had a few lessons with a gentle soul called Mr Pitman and our neighbour, Tomos Charles, would take me out in his car of a Sunday morning for a spin to Swansea Airport. He’d play his easy listening eight track cassettes of Mario Lanza and James Last all the way down and we’d have a full English in the airport café before driving home. …


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It strikes me now how little I knew my Auntie Vi.

My father’s older sister lived with us for the first thirteen years of my life and was an ever-present in my childhood. But I never really knew her, despite her kindness to me, which I took for granted.

She and my dad had moved in to a new council house from their lifelong family home in the fifties and when my parents got married, spinster Violet stayed. She had the front bedroom, my parents the back bedroom and I was in the boxroom.

It must have been a difficult arrangement for the two women to get used to but I was never aware of any friction, although I’m sure there must have been some. The two women appeared close and when I came along they shared in their fuss and doting of me, a circumstance I was not massively keen on and have been resistant to ever since. They went to the English Congregational Church together on Sundays, Vi driving my mother nuts with her enthusiastic and often mispronounced renditions of the hymns. Vi helped with the Sunday dinner afterwards, but I don’t remember her cooking otherwise. …

About

Simon Goss

All this, and Welsh too.

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