Monday, 19 April 2010

By the gurgling brook

Through Sidonia, I also learnt more about a cousin, M__, who's demise I'd described here. Rather than his dying as a straightforward consequence of the substitution of his horse for a tractor as post-pub transport - an incident justifying something of a Luddite approach to life - the truth was a little more complicated. Apparently, he'd lost control of the tractor, it tipping over on top of him, because he'd lost the strength in one of his arms. He was carrying an injury having only recently been shot.

Towards the end he'd become very protective of his property and patrolled it constantly. When he'd found some boys from Caerphilly poaching rabbits one night, they'd thought it advisable to shoot him rather than fall into his hands. His reputation had preceded him.

One of his acts of violence had reached the front page of the South Wales Echo: he'd punched prostrate the driving test inspector who'd failed him. And most recently - though the boys may not have known this - there had been a parallel incident, as Sidonia related.

She and her sister sometimes helped out at M__'s farm. They'd been climbing the hill up to it one morning when a woman holding the hand of a young child and in obvious distress came running down towards them. She explained her husband had been digging up a clump of primroses from a bank near the road when the local farmer had come across them. Furious, he had kidnapped the guilty husband. The woman was beside herself and begged for help. Sidonia and her sister rushed up to the farmhouse and managed to persuade M__ to release the prisoner. She reckons that if she hadn't intervened M__ would probably have killed him. So, all in all, the young poachers had been quite wise to adopt the precautionary principle.

And it's not as if M__ was innocent himself of this sort of thing. He was a notorious sheep-rustler, sometimes stealing sheep from his cousins at night, selling them at market the next morning. However, the law and the press had caught up with him here too. Sidonia reckoned he'd been deported to Saskatchewan for two years, a widely-reported punishment, if one I've never heard of before. Apparently his mother was distraught, inconsolable, and yet she too was a victim of his.

Again, Sidonia recalled arriving at the farm one day to find her doubled up. She'd been scrubbing the floor when M__ had arrived back home. He'd kicked up her up the backside with such force that she couldn't stand straight. The girls insisted on her seeing the doctor who said she seemed in quite a bad way internally. They managed to get her to hospital but she refused to stay, returning to the farm and her beloved son as soon as she could (Sidonia pointed out that she provoked these excesses: she spent a great deal of energy winding her family up into various species of frenzy).

But like a number of men in the family, M__'s grave flaws were accompanied by good looks and charm. And he was always immaculately turned out, hair brushed back and shoes polished to a sheen. Nevertheless, quite apart from his violence and thievery, his life was disorderly. His attractive if monocular girlfriend, with whom he had two children, was a working girl who plied her trade down the docks. She would leave for a number of days at a time, presumably when she was short, the dates of her absence being carefully noted in his herd book alongside the insemination records of his stock.

He didn't, however, always take such a practical view of the relationship. One notorious fight with her occurred in the high street of Tongwynlais, the village at the foot of the mountain, which at the time was on the main road into Cardiff (it's now been bypassed). Presumably, she was on her way to the docks but without his blessing. He'd attempted to run her over but had only succeeded in knocking out her glass eye. Things calmed down when her loss became known to him; they patched things up whilst searching the gutters for what must have been an important and possibly expensive cosmetic accessory.

He was a hypocrite in this area as well. One of his criminal convictions arose from his firing a shotgun into the door of the outside lavatory whither his sister had fled after he'd accused her, erroneously, of being on the game (the police, despite their fear of approaching the property, found they couldn't overlook this transgression). However, a genuine second family connection with this world was to be found in his younger brother T__'s similar taste for the down-at-heel demimondaines of the docks: he had a girlfriend who resided in the rough district of Butetown and had gone missing in the course of one visit.

But despite M__'s acts of violence - including ones perpetrated on her - his mother, just as she pined for her absent youngest son, mourned the death of her eldest. Her grief wasn't assuaged at his funeral, where the presiding vicar - whom M__ had befriended during his gunshot-induced stay at the Miners' Hospital in Caerphilly - had said just four words to the mourners: 'What can I say?'

A year to the day after M__ had been crushed under the tractor she walked down to the Brynnau stream at the bottom of the farm and removed her outer clothes. Folding them in a neat pile beside her, she lay down in the shade of the wood and died, accompanied by nothing more than birdsong and the gurgle of the brook. The family advertised her death to see if it brought her other son T__ back, but to no avail. They never heard of him again.


Brit said...

Magnificent rural lunacy. Just realised I forgot to tell you that one about the Cornishman in the pub. Next time.

Gaw said...

If it were fiction I think it would seem a bit far-fetched.

Ach, the Cornishman - you've got me all intrigued again. I hate not knowing things.

Anonymous said...

Before i read this i thought my father was probably the strangest disreputable relative known to man, but i think he could probably take 2nd place to M____.

One of my uni tutors, a certain Sean Burke, was from Cardiff and wrote a very well-written but messy crime thriller about whores and what not, called "Deadwater". Amazon UK even has a review by me.

zmkc said...

With a family like yours, I presume you don't bother with television - too boring compared to life? Or is there a role for some bland escapism when in the midst of all this?

Gaw said...

Elb: He died just after I was born so I never had the pleasure. Though I did have considerable exposure to my Great-Uncle M_____ (see posts passim) and he was nearly as crackers.

I checked out that novel and it's a bit grim for me.

z: The more eccentric ones are all dead now unless the cousins of my own vintage are keeping something from me. In any event, we're well away from it all, being in London.

I do get a laugh though when, as so often happens, romantic types advert to the idyllic lives of country folk!