A bit about me part 4

Wild horses used to graze the same fields and the braver of the children used to ride the horses bareback often at alarming speeds when playing Cowboys and Indians. I was not that brave and also quite terrified of horses. These fields were adjoining Ladyhill Road where the Alway Health Centre and a Jehovah’s Witness Church appear to be now.     

It was at Alway that I was first introduced to having pets, particularly dogs, in the house. The first pet I can recall was a tabby cat called Billy. My parents had got it when I was away in hospital. I am not sure how old it was but it appeared fully-grown. I think my parents must have got it from someone else however within a year he was gone.

We had no cat flaps back then and the cat used to stay outside most nights. One morning after a very cold night in winter we found poor Billy stiff as a poker just inside our coal shed. I was distraught for quite a few weeks afterwards until my parents decided we would have a dog.
My grandparents had a dog, called Prince, who had come to my rescue when I was attacked by another dog whilst playing outside their house. Prince fought the other dog off me but sadly received injuries to himself so bad he had to be put down.
So I was quite excited when my father brought home a young puppy called Cymru. I am not sure what breed he was or whether he was just a mongrel, I just remember him as being very boisterous. He was a really lovely dog however one day he ended up biting a neighbour’s daughter. She had been teasing him with a stick and Cymru accidentally bit her hand when trying to get the stick off her. Our neighbour complained to the police and my father had to take the dog back to the farm in Usk where he had got him.

A few days after my father had taken Cymru back to the farm we were amazed to find him outside our house looking very bedraggled. He had made his way from the farm in Usk to our house a distance of nearly 15 miles. Of course I was very pleased; however he had to be taken back to the farm and this time never returned.      

My love of pets has continued to this day. Since returning from Germany, in 1976, we have had several dogs and in the last few years, cats as well. The cats were an inheritance from my son when he moved back in with us. Sadly the last one a lovely little cat called Neaput died in June 2013. I shall miss his meowing.

I often read newspaper articles comparing violence and crime today against that of the 60s and whilst I appreciate it is problematic to compare and contrast things from different periods I really think many things are different today. Our lives were a lot simpler back then; we had no computers or mobile phones. In fact many people in the early 60s had no televisions or telephones in their houses. If we needed to telephone anyone we had to use the nearest call box. I was allowed to stay out and play with my friends after dark. We could walk to our youth club and return home, usually by 10 o’clock, in the dark.     

We could leave our front door open all day even if we were out and the postman would come and put your post on the table. We could safely leave money there for the milkman, coalman and the tallyman who used to collect hire purchase payments.
When we first had a television set, it was rented and we had a meter on the back that we used to put coins in to view. Every now and then the rental companies used to visit and empty the meter take their rental and leave the rest on the table for when you came home. I can’t imagine anyone doing the same in our ‘modern’ Britain.
I really think the big difference between now and then is that in the 60s we had respect. Whilst we were certainly no angels, in general we respected the law and our elders. The deterrence of being punished for committing a crime certainly made me think twice before doing it. That respect appears to be missing from most of the youth today and any deterrence that exists does not frighten them.

If you did do something wrong then those in authority would often mete out immediate punishment whether it was a teacher caning you in school or a policeman giving you a clip round the ear. The clip around the ear was extremely popular back then; it certainly made me think about doing the wrong thing again.     

Those that suffered the humiliation of being thrown into the cells for being drunk or other such crimes were literally thrown into the cells.  There were many rumours that some were even given a beating by the police. I never experienced this directly but there were lots of stories at the time.
The roads seemed to be safer back then probably due to less traffic and cars not being as powerful. I once cycled all the way to Barry Island with a couple of friends, a round trip of about 50 miles on the old A48. Not sure how old I was, but probably 12 or 13, so it was quite exciting to a young boy. It would perhaps be more terrifying than exciting if done today.

We also used to cycle and walk through the many lanes around Lliswerry, Nash and Whitson usually ending up in Goldcliff, which was the closest thing to being a seaside many of us would experience, until you went to Barry Island. The trips to Goldcliff were less frequent when they started building the steelworks at Llanwern in 1959.      

The incessant stream of shale lorries, laden with waste from the coalmines, was used to fill the moorlands, so the steelworks could be built. The heavy traffic was too dangerous for anybody walking or cycling the lanes, especially young children. The drivers were paid by the load and were extremely keen to get to their destination as quickly as possible, so they could return for another load. Accidents were frequent and costly in terms of lives and injuries.
In February 1961 the Member of Parliament for Abertillery, the Reverend Llywelyn Williams asked the Minister of Transport a question. He wanted the Minister to ‘state the number of reported accidents involving shale lorries proceeding to and from the Spencer Steelworks Project at Llanwern since the commencement of work at the site; and how many injuries and how many deaths were caused by such accidents’. The Minister for Transport, Ernest Marples replied ‘that in the course of this immense road transport operation 980 accidents have occurred since the work started on a large scale in January 1960. In 750 of these accidents no one was injured; in the remaining 230 accidents I am sorry to say 18 people died and 280 were injured’. (Hansard3).
The transport revolution that occurred during the 1960s had a profound effect on my hometown of Newport. Approval had been given by Parliament to extend the M4 motorway well into Wales and the chosen route involved building a bridge over the River Usk to the North of the existing road and railway bridges and boring twin tunnels under Brynglas Hill.

It took nearly 5 years to build the 1200-foot tunnels and several houses on Brynglas Road had to be demolished as the tunneling weakened them. With hindsight it was probably bad planning to build only two lanes of traffic in each tunnel as they continue to cause traffic jams during peak times. Coming into Wales we have five lanes of motorways over the two Severn bridges and within 12 to 16 miles, depending on which bridge you use, you come across a tunnel at Brynglas with two lanes. If there is a bad accident in one of the tunnels such as the lorry fire in 2011 it can be utter chaos.     

I believe that those who run our country are looking again at plans that were shelved in the late 1980s to build an M4 relief road. Despite any concerns that might be expressed by environmentalists this has to happen for the greater good. I just hope that those in power do not impose tolls yet again on transport infrastructure within Wales.

Another transport link came into being when the George Street Bridge was opened in in 1964. So within a relatively short period Newport went from having a single road bridge to having 3 by 1965. The George Street Bridge for me made a big difference with local traffic no longer having to traverse the busy junctions of Clarence Place and the one that used to be by the Castle to get to Cardiff Road and the Pill area.     

Whilst talking bridges it would be remiss of me to fail to mention a landmark that can be seen for miles even from both sides of the Bristol Channel; the Transporter Bridge. This was opened in 1906 and is one of only six operational transporter bridges left worldwide from a total of twenty constructed. I believe it was the first of the 3 to be built in Britain. It was built because the River Usk has the second highest tidal range in the world and the highest of any city centre in the world. According to those who make movies it’s also quite a long bridge as in the film Tiger Bay you seem to get off in Cardiff Docks.
The platform or gondola is suspended from the carriage, which is pulled from one side of the river to the other by means of a hauling cable. This is normally operated from a pagoda shaped control house situated on the side of the platform. My uncle took a part time job as an operator when he retired from Lysaght’s.
The only tolls charged were if you wanted to climb up the towers and walk across the top platform. Not sure if you can still do this today but I remember paying a ‘tanner’ for this privilege along with some friends. I managed to get near to the top off the tower before I started suffering from vertigo. To the incessant taunts of my friends I turned back.

Despite receiving a sort of schooling in hospital it was not as comprehensive as that I had been getting at Alway Junior. I still managed to get ‘A’s in Reading and Mental Arithmetic in my December 1956 school report. I attained a mix of ‘B’s and ‘C’s in the other subjects. The 11 plus examination, for me, was due to take place the next spring term however because of the amount of time I had spent in hospital it was decided to keep me for another year in class 4E. I would then take the 11 plus when I would be 12 in 1958.

My parents scrimped and saved to pay for private tuition from one of the teachers at Alway Junior School. He has almost certainly passed away by now but Mr. D Smith helped me considerably that year. My final Alway Junior School report for class 4E is all ‘A’s and ‘B’s. Miss James commented ‘John has made quite outstanding progress this year and has now more than caught up’. I was also a prefect and apparently played baseball. I was wondering whether to change the word ‘baseball to its proper name of ‘rounders’ as I am sure I will get the mickey taken by a certain American friend of mine.

The eventual result was a pass in the 11 plus examination in 1958 despite my scores being ‘age standardised’ as I was 12 when I took the exam. I won a place at St Julian's High School, a Grammar School in Newport.