My Life 1

Wales! Who needs it?


I decided to write about my University ‘career’. (Doesn’t ‘career’ mean to slide, out of control?)


I was brought up in Liverpool. Wales was a place across the Mersey, reached by dark green Crosville buses (as opposed to our light green ones) which set off from the Birkenhead ferry terminal, after the shortest Mersey ferry crossing dropped us. Here in this foreign land ‘over the water’ as we used to say, they sold Vimto and had a different brand of ‘pop’. Our brand in Liverpool was ‘Moorhouses’ which had a drawing of a grinning black boy with a lemon squashed on his head on the label. I remember when they first introduced ‘raspberryade’, but our favourite was ‘cream soda’ – it was green. We also loved the lemonade (not the white lemonade but the yellow lemonade, you understand) and Tizer! Ymmm! Plus Sasparilla and Dandelion and Burdock (when they weren’t being delivered by the Lancashire Botanical Brewery lorry in gallon stone jars, like the ginger beer).

 We used to get on a dark green bus at Birkenhead and go to ‘Loggerheads’ – god knows where it was, but it was fun! We went on holiday to a place near Mold – staying in a cottage. I remember the slate floors, and the tame sheep that came in if you left the door open and the old tram in the front garden. Moel-y-Crio – that was it!

 Anyway, this is not about the Land of my Fathers as such. It’s about the mentality of the real Welsh welsh. Prepare, O youngsters, to be amazed beyond your wits…….

 I went to University in Wales. Not the nice, ordinary part (Cardiff, Swansea – where they are sort of Welsh, but English really). Thank god not Bangor (which was probably worse) but Aberystwyth – a seaside town that seduced and betrayed me.

It was great - I love the sea! At Aber I once lived in a seafront hotel that vibrated each time a wave hit. It was built on a Victorian artificial embankment which blocked the original mouth of the river Ystwyth and diverted it into the harbour. I lay in bed, feeling each wave strike. When there was a storm the front windows were all shuttered, and we had to go in at the back –you had to wait between waves, as they crashed down over the roof into the yard behind each time in a drenching shower. It part of a long seafront terrace about five stories high – we once went into one of the rooms in the eaves, and opened the tiny window – bam! Spray fountained into the room. After the storm, the road outside was covered in boulders, some sizeable. I once saw a family walking by the rail of the promenade – not a real storm but a high, choppy sea. The sea sort of ‘slopped’ and for an instant they were a foot deep in seawater, then it drained away as quickly as it had appeared. They looked down, amazed, and then the kids started to yell! I loved it – the power!

 Anyway, what I want to tell you about in all this verbiage, apart from the Sunday-night drives across icy mountain roads just to get a drink at the Cross Foxes in Rhyader (outside Ceredigion (Cardiganshire), and ‘wet’ on Sunday unlike Aber where all the pubs were closed), and the Penguin café, and the fact there were no traffic lights in the town, and …… but I digress. My story today is of injustice, prejudice and small-town Welsh bitterness and self-righteousness. 

 My first ‘digs’ were at Mrs Davies’ in St. Michael’s place, opposite the Castle ruins, where there was a war memorial – a bronze figure of a winged lady, nicely patina’d but whose tits were regularly polished to highlight them. My next ‘digs’ were in the local pub. That’s when I became a ‘suspect’ to the authorities!  Before moving into a room above the pub, I had been a regular there, and naturally remained so. My evenings were spent at the ‘Angel Inn’ imbibing, playing guitar, banjo, and singing uproariously. My tankard (actually an original ‘Guinness’ glass mug from Ireland, and which miraculously survived) hung from the ceiling of the bar. I was known, a regular, and a resident.

 Enter the University authorities, by letter:- “It has come to our attention……… taken lodgings above licensed premises……. as you have to pass through a six foot corridor of the licensed premises to reach the staircase to your room, it is forbidden!”

 Er, but I’m a regular there anyway.”

 “It is against regulations – you cannot stay there!”

 Who told ‘em? Some busybody. A welsh busybody, I have no doubt.

 I moved. I lived in a dump. The pub had been great, the landlord and his family were friends, they looked after me, we sat and chatted. Now I was in a dump, cardboard walls, slug-filled kitchen, dying landlady, cat called ‘Shitty’ (sounded like) which ran up the chimney and a fellow inmate who left sweaty, stinking rugby clothes in the sideboard and false tooth on mantelpiece. (He got a first in Classics! Can you believe it?) Cracked toilet seat - full stop.

 That year, I got thrown out. Let’s not go into it, eh? It was more a ‘failed to return’. In the interim year, I got lessons from my old maths teacher, and succeeded in resuming my academic ‘career’ again the year after, in the meantime working at the John Moores centre (Littlewood’s catalogues) and being a ‘Temporary Unqualified Teacher’ at a Catholic School in Scotland Road. 

 So I was  back. I’m in the hotel, pounded by waves. I meet the love of my life. You know the one who just …….. The one! (Totally unsuited, but we realise all that later).

So I immediately contract glandular fever – not just a short sore throat, but the works. Nice young, smart doctor. Lost my records. Six weeks later –

 “I’m still being sick every morning and my throat hurts terribly, doctor. I’m tired all the time, no energy, I get breathless walking.” 

 “Have you been here before?”

 “Yes, six weeks ago when it started.”

 “No record of that, still, let’s have a look……”

 I found out he’d told the University he didn’t know anything about me being ill for the six weeks before that, so they got shirty at some missed morning lectures.


 My girl friend insisted I move to her place as I was, by now flat out, not eating and gasping for breath despite the medication. She had to hold me up as I staggered slowly along the back road, step by step. Her flatmates were kind, they didn’t object. For several days I lay, not eating anything, gagging at the merest smell of food, existing on Lucozade. She called my parents, and the doctor.

 “You have glandular fever. It’s serious. I advise you to go home.” The doctor smiles.

 At the weekend, my dad and my brother arrived at my girl-friend’s flat. I was able to stagger to the car, wrapped in blankets, to be driven home.

 At Christmas, my girl friend visited me. I was apparently better and it was great. (However, a year later I woke up one day and say “Hey, I feel better. This is the first morning I haven’t been sick.” And I was. (better))


 Then I got a letter. It said: “You were found staying in a woman’s lodgings. This is against the regulations, you must face a tribunal.”

 Who told ‘em? Guess – the doctor – the Welsh doctor - what a bunch of wankers!


When I got back next term, I was hauled up in front of a body of people, headed by the Vice-Principal. They fined me, and my girl friend. They didn’t ask about my work, my progress…… I told them I would pay her fine as well.

 At the campus on the hill, a scrap of paper blew across my ankle. I grabbed it.

 It said “The student Griffiths has been found to…. Have any of you any additional information.” It was about me! Unbelievable!

 *note: this is all true, I promise!

 By now I felt like public enemy number one. As I queued to pay my fine at the Vice-Principal’s office, with about ten others, he was on a phone in the corner of the outer office.

 “I think we should find out more about this “Griffiths’s” girlfriend, there may be more…..”

 I couldn’t believe it. What was this man about? Vice-Principal of a University, big stuff to do, and he was pursuing my girlfriend, whose only ‘crime’ was to look after a sick bloke. I went over to him, tapped him on his gowned shoulder, and said. “Excuse me, but you are talking about me in front of all these people.” I said it loudly enough so all my fellow students stared at him. (I wonder what they’d been fined for? Probably ‘being English’ or ‘staring lewdly at Mary Thomas’s tits’ (which at least fifty per cent of us did) ). He rushed back in his office without an apology. He was Welsh.


Sod it! I thought. The next day, I moved in with my girl friend. I never had any hassle again for the rest of the year. Life, huh?

 I loved the place - but some of the people!

 I know many other people have interesting lives, I’m sure mine is a lot less interesting than many, and I’m not complaining about the injustice – I am more fascinated by the mentality of some of the people I met.


John F. Griffiths, BSc. Physics (Honours) UCW Aberystwyth (not completed).


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