On the 30th June 1969 they held a street party in Heol-y-Gelynen for the investiture of the ‘Prince of Wales’. Regardless of my now negative opinion of the royal family, at the time I was a little less bothered and more than happy to wave the little paper flags and tuck into the best spread I’d ever seen.
The street I grew up on, a small, cul-de-sac on a large council estate, was pretty much free of traffic. The houses were just over ten years old and the gardens still retained an ‘open’ look with immature hedges and shrubs. The neighbours all knew each other well and the street had several families with children around the same age that played together at every opportunity. We had in place a strong system of matriarchal control as the older children were mostly girls. This allowed our mums to give us a little more freedom than we might otherwise have had and we made the most of it, staying out as long as the weather, the light or a summons for teatime allowed.
In school we’d been indoctrinated into supporting the investiture for weeks. They’d had us drawing flags, the Welsh Dragon and the Union Jack. We’d been told stories about our new prince with dubious parallels drawn to Llywelyn, and Owain Glyndŵr. We’d been given commemorative stamps and coins, although I can’t be sure that we hadn’t been made to pay for them. I was particularly swayed by the silver and gold ink on the stamps, an early awakening of my interest in graphic design.
In any case, the anticipation for the street party was fantastic, the massed mums of the street had been planning and organising for weeks, baking and making for days before and the houses were all decorated with flags and bunting. The smell of cooking — butterfly cakes, sponges and coconut macaroons wafted out of every summer-opened kitchen door and there were fruit jellies setting in the hallways, the coolest part of the house when few had fridges to accommodate them.
Remarkably, the weather did its bit too, providing a balmy blue sky. This allowed the parents to carry out their dining tables and chairs to the end of the cul-de-sac and cover them with a patchwork of tablecloths to form a homogenous thirty foot counter on which to present their hard work.
Us trembling children were all given spectacular silver paper crowns or colourful party hats, commemorative mugs and Welsh flags and sat on unfamiliar chairs in front of piles of sandwiches, other mums’ cakes, and the lurid jellies, finally set. There were jugs of orange squash to drink, providing enough diluted sugar to keep us energised for hours to come. To a wide eyed five year old it was mind blowing and the best day of my life to that date and for some years to come.
The clamour around the table was intense, most of the children stuffing their little faces, the fussier ones picking at their fairy cakes, mums trying to please everyone at once, outdoing each other with attention to their young ones. We finished our party food and played in the street until twilight, given more licence than usual to create havoc while the mothers sat down to natter happily and share a few sandwiches and cakes before clearing up.
I don’t remember there being any dads about, it being a Monday I suppose they would have been at work. I imagine them lingering over a pint in the Bridge or the Tregib afterwards to escape the fuss before returning to whatever curling sandwiches were left over for dinner.
After eventually exhausting myself with the other children I went home dog tired to the contentment of my parents and was sound asleep before the sun went down on that long, beautiful day.
As it was the end of June we would have still had a few weeks left of school before the summer holidays but they must have passed in a blur of excitement as we all looked forward to the break.
It was a bit of a year. A month later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. A month after that I went on my own perilous adventure to far off, exotic Aberystwyth on what proved to be my only family holiday. My dad, a reluctant driver, would have welcomed the help of Mission Control to find his way so far north. I suspect he never recovered from the effort as we never drove anywhere remotely as far ever again!
It’s impossible to view that time now without the acquired perspective of the intervening years. The golden glow of the street party has been tarnished by understanding why it was taking place. The English royal family were imposing their first son on us grateful, kowtowing Welsh in order to confirm the weird anachronistic influence they so desperately craved.
If that was the intention, and I’m certain it was, for me it failed miserably. What I eventually took from the occasion was a sense of community, of local and national pride and the awakening of an everlasting love for Wales. I was invested in my country.