There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today, I’m so pleased to welcome Phil Rowlands. I seem to have known Phil as part of the writing world for as long as can remember. I have interviewed him a couple of times forand he was always a very welcome addition to the Narberth Book Fairs. Here Phil tells us, in a very poignant account, of the many special memories he has ofNewgale, Wales.
A chorus of waves and pebbles washes over me as I stand in the place where, back in the folds of time, the five of us, Mum, Dad, my sister, me, and Bob the sheepdog dallied one year for the summer weeks of school holiday, in an old caravan owned by a distant relative.
One night our little van fought so violently with the raging winds and torrential rain and my six-year-old self fretted so passionately, that we returned home, a journey of eleven miles away, to spend the night. Returning in the sun and light of day, I searched for the scattered wreckage but there was none. Even the tent toilet, attached by top and bottom ties, still stood proudly. It was the first sight of my ‘what if’ irritation of the years ahead.
It is beautiful here, a mile of golden sand, patterned with the crisscross current cuts of the angry sea. The warriors of foam, riding the crest of the curved waves, invade the beach and then pull back to regroup for their next attack. High stacked stones lining the edge of this ‘sandy battleground’ look impassively on. They have seen it all before. I wonder if they remember me, the day I lost my Mum and ran through the forest of adults, tears in my eyes and my ever-present smile slipped away in the desperation of the search. Each step I took seemed to drag me deeper into the roots of fear and loss. Then, at last, after a panting panic run, in the shimmering distance, I saw her yellow flowered frock and was soon locked in the solace and safety of her suntanned arms and the warmth of the smell that was and always will be her. We always loved a cuddle, my Mum and me, right up to the end. I miss that most.
Which way to walk? What box of memories shall I open? I think I will head towards Cwm Mawr, the little cove that became ours during the six weeks sojourn. Sunburn, grainy cheese and tomato sandwiches, jellyfish, crabs, and ice-cold rock pools mingle with caves, cliﬀs and the corpses of sheep that couldn’t stop in time but floated down to become a picnic for the parasites.
The Duke of Edinburgh pub, hidden on the other side of the pebbles and across the road, was once the only barrier for the sea, facing the elements with the bravery of one who knows it cannot win. A tidal wave in 1900 swept in the stones, washed the pub away, swirling the frantic souls as they sank to their deep and watery end and flooded the valley for a mile or more. My great grandfather, a postman, sitting on his delivery trap, watched it happen in helpless fascination. Or so the family folklore goes.
A flick of time to my early teenage years and Wendy from Windsor. She was a sultry sixteen-year-old who caressed my libido and was the best French kisser I had ever found. She showed me that oral was not just the spoken word and led me to what suited her best. How could she know so much at such a tender age? But, oh, how grateful I was that she did. We spent many a happy, messy hour in her parent’s tent as they washed the London cobwebs away with the fresh and salty Welsh air and a pint or two of Scrumpy in the lounge of the Duke.
Most of the summers, in my early years, my family stayed in one of a cluster of chalets with wood and glass verandas, overlooking the beach, the cliffs and the steep road leading down to the village. My dad, who worked as a car salesman, would have his two weeks holiday, and then commute until we returned home the Friday before school went back. On his daily drive, mum and I would travel with him to the top of the hill that led towards Haverfordwest and then walk back, calling into the farm for eggs or buying hot bread from the seaside shop. The boy who worked there thought he was Johnny Cash, wore a cowboy shirt and hat and strangled words that were more Nercwys than Nashville. Still, he helped to colour the landscape of those early years of freedom, and fun.
In later times, when we owned a caravan at the top of the other hill that led to Solva and St David’s, we would walk back over the cliﬀs, climbing up through the carpet of moss and heather, pausing at the top, hand in hand, to survey our borrowed world of sand and sea, the horizon distant and hazy in the early morning misty sunshine.
Sometimes, though, it rained for days and, if not walking on the sands enjoying the wet, we would sit in the dryness of the veranda, watching the flooded campsite with its array of sunken canvas wrecks and try to count the blow-up beds, bags and plastic cups being chased around by the, determined to not let it spoil the holiday, tourists from Cardiﬀ, Glasgow, London or Hull. Often, I felt a perverse pleasure in this unfair act of God. It was a payback for their invasion of my private holiday space.
Cwm Mawr could be reached three ways. By the beach when the tide was out or over the cliﬀs, down past a cottage which sat a few yards from the drop into the sea. I was drawn to it and was desperate to live there. It had a windmill, small windows, and a constant pile of logs. Always when I passed, I could feel it drawing me to look in through its dusty glass or daring me to knock on the door and ask to go in. I never did. I might have broken the spell and that would never have done. The last way to reach the little bay was to walk up the road to Penycwm and then go through the gate with its ‘Farm Animals. Please Shut the Gate.’ sign, and down the rough-tracked valley passing, on the right, the green wooden colonial-style bungalow that was known, to me and my peers, as the TB house. It was once a Convalescent Home, and its shadow of infection and danger still loomed large as I hurried on my way to the safety of my little cove. I always meant to chance a night-time raid but never did. Perhaps, if it’s still there, I might make the eﬀort though I do not wish to shatter the thin film of time that protects it from the present.
After crossing a cool, clear, pure stream, and scrambling over the shingle of long-gone ages, you reached the rock-strewn beach with its high walls and sculptures. A picture book of past and present. A ‘Boy’s Own’ landscape of adventure and fantasy. There were large water filled hollows, big enough to swim in, if you wanted to risk disturbing their hidden dangers – the anger of awakened crabs or the poisonous puﬀs of Portuguese Men O’ War, imprisoned when the tide retreated, easily ballooned in my fertile mind.
They were happy, carefree times, uncluttered by the responsibilities and shattered dreams to come. A protected world, in which laughter came easily and old age lay hidden slyly in the shadows of future years.
A great treat was to go to the cinema once a week and then on the way back to fill up the roasting pan with fish and chips from Dew Street. We would wait until we got back to Newgale, almost beside ourselves with desire, as that special salt and vinegar smell wrapped itself around us and we almost drooled in anticipation of the delights to come.
The first time I saw the seals it was early evening. We were sitting on the rocks, halfway up the broken cliﬀ, tired from long hours of sunshine and salt. A family of three swam up and basked on the flat rocky plateau below us. Glorious silky bodies, faces twitching to give warning of the first scent of danger. They didn’t mind us being there and seemed to sense that we intended them no more harm than to share in their lives for this moment of time. I can’t remember how long we stayed but dusk was slipping its curtain over the light as we reached the caravan. Dad had been home for four hours and was beginning to think that Neptune had taken us to lodge in his deep and mysterious home.
Next night he came back early and joined our little group. The seals glanced upwards as he arrived but relaxed when he sat with us. He was overcome by their innocence and peace, and I never felt as close to him again.
About Phil Rowlands
I am a screenwriter, author and producer. After many years as a ‘safe pair of hands’ actor, mainly in film and television, I moved into the production side as a freelance writer and producer. I’ve written feature films, TV and radio dramas, documentaries and animation series and worked on productions as a script doctor and consultant.
In 2009 I was one of the co-founders of Funky Medics, a production company focussing mainly on innovative health education. Its projects have included heart disease, diabetes, smoking and drug abuse.
Currently, I have four screenplays under option, one for production in 2023, the other three at various stages of draft development.
Siena, my first novel, was revised and republished by new indie publisher Diamond Crime along with my second, Single Cell in April 2021. A new book, TimeSlip, was released in late March 2022.
I write in a shed at the bottom of my small garden.
Originally from Pembrokeshire in West Wales, I now live near Cardiff and have British nationality and Canadian citizenship.