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When railway signalman Harry Price suffers a stroke his son Matthew, a lecturer in London, makes a return to the border village of Glynmawr. As Matthew and Harry struggle with their memories of social and personal change, a beautiful and moving portrait of the love between a father and son emerges.
Parthian Books; November 2009
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As he ran for the bus he was glad: not only because he was going home, after a difficult day, but mainly because the run in itself was pleasant, as a break from the contained indifference that was still his dominant feeling of London. The conductress, a West Indian, smiled as he jumped to the platform, and he said, ‘Good evening,’ and was answered, with an easiness that had almost been lost. You don’t speak to people in London, he remembered; in fact you don’t speak to people anywhere in England; there is plenty of time for that sort of thing on the appointed occasions – in an office, in a seminar, at a party. He went upstairs, still half smiling, and was glad there had been no time to buy an evening paper; there was plenty to look at, in the bus and in the streets. Matthew Price had been eight years a university lecturer, in economic history. He knew of nothing he more wanted to be, though his anxiety about his work had become marked. He was generally considered a good lecturer, but his research, which had started so well, had made little real progress over the last three years. It might be simply the usual fading, which he had watched in others, but it presented it self differently to his own mind. It is a problem of measurement, of the means of measurement, he had come to tell himself. But the reality which this phrase offered to interpret was, he could see, more disturbing. He was working on population movements into the Welsh mining valleys in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. But I have moved myself, he objected, and what is it really that I must measure? The techniques I have learned have the solidity and precision of ice-cubes, while a given temperature is maintained. But it is a temperature I can’t really maintain; the door of the box keeps flying open. It’s hardly a population movement from Glynmawr to London, but it’s a change of sub stance, as it must also have been for them, when they left their villages. And the ways of measuring this are not only outside my discipline. They are somewhere else altogether, that I can feel but not handle, touch but not grasp. To the nearest hundred, or to any usable percentage, my single figure is indifferent, but it is not only a relevant figure: with out it, the change can’t be measured at all. The man on the bus, the man in the street, but I am Price from Glynmawr, and here, understandably, that means very little. You get it through Gwenton. Yes, they say the gateway of Wales. Yes, border country. It was a long bus-ride out, and it was dark when he got off: town dark. The lamps had been lit among the bare trees, and shone down into the little front gardens. There were trees and gardens all along this street. When, soon after their marriage, Matthew and Susan had seen this street, they had felt they could settle in it. It was suburban, what ever that might mean, but this was little enough to pay for trees and a garden. Theirs was the end house: grey, single -fronted, with a wide bay window. At the gate stood a labur num, as he had learned to call it except when it was in flower, when it was a golden chain again. On the gate had been a panel announcing ‘Laburnum House’, but this had been burned. Collecting the names of houses had been one of their earliest pastimes, before they married. Susan, the daughter of a Cumberland teacher, had been one of Matthew’s first students. They had married two months after her graduation. While she was still his student, they had walked, endlessly, around a London still strange to them both. Their direction, always, was from a large street into a smaller, until they were virtually lost and had to ask their way back. They had found this street on one of these walks, and since they had settled in it a new line of shops and a new junior school had been built nearby. Their two boys had been born and would grow up here, and would think of it as home. As Matthew pushed open the door, there was a shouted protest. Harry, just inside the door, was jumping to tap back a limp red balloon, which had to float between the door and the stairs as goals. He missed it as the door opened suddenly, and the balloon floated down under Matthew’s feet.
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