I related in a comment on my last post how one of my early friends at Cambridge didn't appreciate - in some sense, didn't even see - the architecture, those staggeringly beautiful and ancient buildings. He just wasn't tuned into that part of life and would have just as happily pursued his studies in featureless concrete cubes.
I describe him as a friend, but he was more someone I associated with, living as he did in the same house as me, along with a few other like-minded types (like his mind, not mine). In this sense, at least initially, Cambridge was a huge disappointment, as it is for a lot of people. I'd left a provincial comprehensive with enormously high expectations of who I'd meet; but I'd somehow fallen in with a group of individuals more philistine, narrow and, actually, more childish than any I'd been friendly with at school.
Thankfully, again as I think most people do, I eventually began knocking around with some more sympathetic people (a couple of them are still amongst my closest friends). But I'll never forget the disillusionment, almost desolation of that first term.
The architecture was one thing, but the biggest consolation was what getting into Cambridge had meant for my family and, most keenly, for my Taid. He was someone I idolised. But he was also one of the most cynical men I've ever met. Not in a vicious way - he was kind and considerate - but in a literal sense with a twist: he tended to disbelieve in human goodness, and the louder it was declaimed the more scornful he became.
His biggest hatreds were reserved for the Pope and Bob Geldof. (I'd love to hear the vituperation that would have been provoked by the likes of Blair and Bono). It was the hollow self-righteousness that sent him spare, I think. Everyone fundamentally remains mysterious, but my guess is that this cynicism was produced in the conjunction of a sensitive, idealistic personality with rough-edged experience.
His early working life was hard, as it was for many working class men of the early twentieth century: avoiding the mine or quarry by leaving his home in the Conwy valley at fourteen to go to Manchester where an aunt had managed to find him work on the trams; then working for the Rhondda Transport Company, where he'd never know day-to-day whether he'd be given a shift (turn up at the depot at 5am; get taken on if he were lucky; work through until the early hours of the next morning if he was; start again).
But I think it must have been his witnessing of hypocrisy that had made him so bitter. It started early. I remember him relating how he and his Mam would be walking down the street when they'd see the black-clad priest coming towards them tipping his hat as he went. When he reached them there would be a slight acknowledgement but the hat would remain firmly on his head. This absolutely infuriated him to the point of tears, even seventy or so years later: why wasn't his mother good enough for that man? He loathed organised religion, which he saw as a racket and, in the case of the chapel, pointlessly cruel and dictatorial as well.
He'd joined the masons at some point, thinking it was some form of companionable but charitable organisation; he left a short while later disgusted at how people used it to connive in career advancement. Then there were the cruelties, small and large, inherent in life in the Valleys: fatal industrial diseases, degrading working conditions, poverty, strikes. He was obviously quite an innocent man, sensitive and well-meaning. The lack of reciprocity he found in the world upset him and continued to do so. But what infuriated him were the moral grandstanders, those who appear to thrive on a mission of alleviating misery.
He retired early for health reasons and he and my Nain moved up with us to the Cotswolds. He was a lot happier there; he found it less claustrophobic. But he never really got used to the English - not friendly - and he never lost the marks left by his upbringing.
He always felt smart people might be looking down on him (despite his being always immaculately turned out). He said he could never hear a posh accent without cringing inwardly, and he could never imagine being able to contradict someone who spoke like that (it must have seemed doubly alien to him: Welsh was his first language). He felt shamed by this. His conclusive advice to us children was simply to get on, to "get up amongst 'em"; make the most of what we had and don't make the mistakes he'd made.
But don't think this was the beginning and end of the man. In fact, very few would know about these private opinions and insecurities. He loved music (one son, my uncle, became an opera singer). He was tremendously curious, bombarding me with questions whenever I saw him. Most of all, he was extremely funny with an oblique but harmless sense of humour, always looking for a laugh, to send something up. At most social gatherings, before long, a small crowd would be gathered around him; he'd be making innocent wise-cracks, whilst cradling a very large whisky and lemonade.
When I got the A-level results I needed we had an impromptu family party. A couple of friends came to collect me to to go to the pub; they left in the early hours, Taid keeping them in laughter for much of the night. They wondered why I ever bothered to go out.
So after my first term, when he told me that he was enjoying walking down the street in the knowledge that he was as good as anyone, now that he had a grandson at Cambridge, I was obviously left speechless. I still don't have words to explain what this meant to me. I suppose I felt proud, but pride didn't seem anything like the right emotion.