Dad was brought up by his grandmother and several aunts but in Down the Memory Lanes of My Hafod he offers very little sense of what the world was like from their point of view. I am sure that Dad’s grandmother would have recalled quite a different world from the one he remembers and there is little doubt that my mother would have written about a different Hafod altogether. Like Dad’s grandmother's, my mother's married life had begun with only a cold tap in the back yard but, instead of the boiler fashioned from scrap tin that Ma used, material progress was represented by ownership of modern electrical appliances: a baby Burco boiler and a Morphy Richards iron. In 1961 46 Gerald Street was one of 10,000 houses in Swansea still without a fixed bath. By 1964 the house was one of the first in the street to have a fully fitted bathroom with hot water and an indoor toilet. Decorated in the palest shade of blue and finished with carefully chosen tiles and lino, the upstairs bathroom was a tangible sign that the house no longer belonged to the past.
My mother’s experience of living in the house where my father had been brought up seems to reflect the changes in society that occurred during the early 1960s and a very real sense of transition permeates many of the stories she told me: the revolutionary change from the traditional Wednesday evening get-togethers with black-aproned women to glamorous dinner dances on Saturday nights; the aspiration to paint the scumbled woodwork in the house cream; the radical decision to continue working after marriage. One particular anecdote is laden with the conflict that this time of change brought.
As a working woman all through her early married life, my mother was intrigued by the gleaming brass thresholds and the half-moon shapes worn into neighbours’ steps. Then I came along and she stopped work: there was no such thing as maternity leave in those days. The front doors of Gerald Street would open each morning, children would burst forth and, to my mother's amazement, out would pop the heads of the women of the street, all on their hands and knees burnishing their front steps with a rough pumice stone. It didn’t take long to realise that this is how the street telegraph worked. Very much a social occasion, the age-old practice of step whitening was always accompanied with wise words and a laugh or two at the expense of the men. If a young boy or girl with big ideas was foolish enough to saunter past, they were soon put in their place with much hilarity.
This particular household chore didn’t really appeal to my mother. She said she could never quite get the same glowing semi-circle as her neighbours seemed to manage so the pumice stone was warily wrapped in newspaper and fastened with a rubber band before being hidden forever under the sink. Office banter was more to her taste but she could see the social importance of the routine to women whose lives, even in the 1960s, were dominated by endless mundane tasks. Describing the scene was one of my mother's favourite anecdotes, and she often re-told it to show that opportunities for sharing human experience could be encountered in the most unexpected places.