A bit about me part 1

I was born in Newport South Wales on the 21st March 1946, which apparently was a Thursday. I was the second of three children my parents had and was one of those born in the baby boom after the Second World War. My older sister Judy would have just been old enough to understand she now had a baby brother to play with and look after.     

I was given the forenames of John William Patrick, which was and still is a bit of a mouthful however it could have been much worse. In spite of it not being shown on the marriage certificate my father had an additional middle name of Aloysius, which was apparently a traditional name along with Patrick for males in his family. I was supposed to have been given that name as well but my mother intervened and I was given a middle name of William instead. I thank her for her saving me from years of embarrassment.

My father’s family originally came from Southern Ireland; however I cannot confirm when they moved to Wales. The whole family was of the Catholic religion however I think my father must have fallen out with the Church as I was christened as Church of England.

The surname ‘Reardon’ according to the Internet is an interesting name of Medieval Irish origin and is an alternative form of Riordan, which in Irish Gaelic is O'Riordain. The earlier form O'Rioghbhardain reveals its derivation from 'Rioghbhard' meaning Royal bard with the 'O' denoting 'descendant of'. Perhaps my love of music originated from my family roots.

Because early scribes and church officials often spelled names as they sounded a person could have many various spellings of his name. Many variations of the surname can be found in archives. These include O’Riordan, Riordan, O’Rearden, Rearden and others. The name was first found in County Cork.

Newport is a city just over 12 miles east of Cardiff, which is the capital of Wales. In my childhood Cardiff was 16 miles away so either a mile has shrunk or more likely that roads have been re-routed. According to their official website the town of Newport was created after the Normans conquered Gwent in 1093. In the early 12th century they built a castle by a ford in the river Usk and soon a little town grew up by the castle.

Other records including ‘An Outline History of Medieval Newport’, (Trett, Bob1) state that Newport goes back even further to the 5th or 6th Century. Tradition states that Saint Gwynllyw established a wooden Church on the top of Stow Hill, which in Saxon times was rebuilt in stone and became to be known as St Woolos.

The Newport of 2013 has changed a lot from the Newport I left in 1971. The Newport City Council web site states that Newport is undergoing major changes with many parts of the city being redeveloped to create a better environment for people to live, work and visit. The Newport I visited in March and April 2013 did not give me the impression of a better environment.      Driving through the city the first time for well over 30 years it looked more like a bombsite. There is a lot of work left to turn what was once a great town-centre back to something better or at least similar.

My parents got married on the 7th of February 1944 at St Patrick’s Church in Cromwell Road Newport. The hall adjacent to this Church was to be a pivotal point in my musical career some 19 years later. My father’s profession on the certificate is listed as a motor van driver for a laundry and my mother was a packer at the same laundry. Their forenames as shown on their marriage certificate were Joseph and Doris however for some unknown reason my father was always called Dennis and my mother went under the name of Flo.
I have no idea what laundry my parents worked for or where it was. I guess it would have been in the Corporation Road area of Newport as my father lived in Vivian Road and my mother in Cromwell Road.
My first real memories were living in one of the pre-fabricated buildings that were built after the war as temporary accommodation to house people affected by the bombing in the war. Our prefab in Bishpool Lane was still standing over 60 years later before being demolished in the last few years to make room for modern bungalows. Coincidentally I only found out whilst writing this book that John Beardmore lived a few doors away from us at that time.     

I think our prefab had a coal fire as I have faint memories of having a weekly all over wash in a large tin bath in front of the fire. The water, which was heated up on the fire in a large cast iron kettle had to be shared amongst those washing. It’s a lot different to the daily showers I take now.

A couple of years after I was born my mother gave birth to a younger brother for me. I have always considered myself lucky in that I never really experienced the issues that most middle children seem to suffer from. I didn’t have to wear many hand-me-downs having a sister Judy as the older sibling certainly not as many as my younger brother did. I certainly never felt as if I was neglected in favour of my sister or brother.

Perhaps the only trait of the so-called middle child syndrome I think I have is that of being a bit of a loner. However I put this more down to having spent a large portion of my early childhood in hospitals rather than being a middle child.  

Sometime before March 1952 my parents moved from our prefab in Bishpool Lane to a more modern terraced house in Elgar Avenue, Alway Estate. I am not sure of the exact date however the Record of Service for my father has the Elgar Avenue address shown against his release from the Army with a date of 18th March 1952 against it. The move meant I was a lot nearer to Alway Junior School and could easily walk to and from school.

The real strong memories are that I appeared to have had almost every childhood illness spending a large proportion of my early life in and out of hospitals. Pneumonia was followed by scarlet fever, mumps, measles, tonsillitis, thyroid problems, Osgood-Schlatter disease, broken arms (four times) and then the big one Tuberculosis (TB).      

I saw my medical files on one hospital visit and there were at least 3 folders each of which was nearly 2 inches thick. When we were young I cannot recall my brother having similar medical issues and I can only remember my sister having a problem with one of her kidneys.

Like many children I suffered from tonsillitis and I ended up going into St Woolos hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I think I spent 2-3 days in hospital and I can remember being pushed on a trolley down to the operating theatre before I succumbed to the anesthetic. After the operation the food I was given included ice cream and burnt toast. I can understand the ice cream as my throat was tender but not sure why the toast however it must have had an effect on me as I love burnt toast to this day.

I spent over 2 years in a couple of hospitals that were for some unknown reason at opposite sides of the country. When I was 7 years old in 1953 I was sent to a hospital run by nuns in Essex. I think it was in Woodford Green. I am not sure of the exact date I was admitted as both the Christmas 1953 and July 1954 school reports from class 1S at Alway Junior School have comments mentioning I have worked hard despite a long absence. The July 1953 report also from class 1S just has the comment ‘John has worked hard this term’ so I assume I must have been admitted sometime after the start of the autumn term.

I also recall going round to my Great Nana Mitchell’s house in Magor Street to see the Coronation in June on her recently acquired television so I must have gone into hospital after then. I think she was one of the first in the street to get a television as most of the neighbours were sat around the living room. At the time the children wanted to watch the Cisco Kid or Hopalong Cassidy instead but the grown-ups all wanted to watch the Coronation.     

I have very little recollections of my time at the hospital other than breaking my left arm on a climbing frame and the fact the nuns were very strict particularly when bathing the children. For some reason the one that bathed me insisted on scrubbing me with a hard bristle brush particularly around the really tender parts of my body.

My other memory is of my parents visiting me. I was let out of the hospital so they could take me on a trip into London and visit Trafalgar Square. I had a photograph taken feeding the pigeons and my mother cut a lock off my hair. I am not sure why she did this perhaps she thought I wasn’t going to get well and die in the hospital I really don’t know.

When I was young I had a mop of blond curly hair.  My Nana Redmond was always telling me to eat my crusts on bread, as I wouldn’t get nice curly hair. To increase the chances of it being curly she often put those wavers that looked like massive bulldog clips into my hair after it had been washed. Everybody apart from me loved my blond curly hair. I just wanted it to be straight.

I cannot locate the Trafalgar Square photograph but I still have the lock of hair that was cut off that day. I regret not asking my mother before she died why she did this.       I can’t remember anyone ever mentioning to me what illness I had been suffering from. I assume my parents or at least the doctors knew but nobody told me. With hindsight it must have been the early onset of TB.

I then had a relatively illness free year apart from breaking my right arm when playing with a football in my Nana’s garden in Cromwell Road. I was trying to dribble the ball whilst holding a jam sandwich in my hand and somehow fell over. I felt a lot of pain and looked at my hand to see a bit of bone sticking out. I immediately bawled my eyes out and started screaming.

My Nana who was a nurse picked me up and took me into her house where she put my arm in a sling. She then put her coat on; placed my coat over my shoulders and took me to the bus stop, which was just outside where she lived. She was taking me to our doctor who was in a surgery on Corporation Road near where the Coliseum Cinema was at Clarence Place. I think she thought it would be quicker to take me there rather than go to a call box to ring for an ambulance.

We sat on one of the side seats at the back of the bus near where you got on. I was still crying my eyes out and other passengers were quite shocked to see bits of my bone and blood peering out of my sling. I think the conductor must have had some sympathy for me as he told the driver not to stop at the 2-3 bus stops until we got to the one near the doctors. He also didn’t take our fares.
At the surgery the receptionist took me straight in to see the doctor who took a look at my arm and said it was a bad greenstick fracture and I needed to go to the Royal Gwent Hospital to have it treated. Hours later, most of which was spent still crying we caught a bus back with my arm in Plaster of Paris.
Just over the road from the Coliseum cinema was the Odeon. This was a lovely Art Deco style of building, which opened just before the Second World War. This was my favourite cinema in Newport. I spent many a Saturday morning there singing ‘We are the Ovaltinies, Happy Girls’ and Boys’. I think those days are long gone.

The Odeon, which closed in 1981, has been given a council grant and is undergoing refurbishment. I am not sure when it is due to officially open or whether it will remain as a cinema but it is great that it hasn’t been demolished. John Beardmore spoke just before our reunion gig to one of the people working on the refurbishment and they said it’s going quite well.


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