BLOG Gwen Davies

NWR Issue 101

A Donkey-load of Silver

A posh friend of a friend had his four-year-old in reserve for public school, for which experience the young Owain Hughes was also destined. This friend's friend's boy was referred to as Man Child and, like the young Owain, ran wild, mainly outdoors, and was expected to get up to lots of mischief (on tractors and suchlike) out of his parents' hearing, until that day his freedom was curtailed (to be resumed thereafter at the next long holiday).

This innocent sort of mischief characterises Hughes' 50s and 60s childhood in the first third of Everything I Have Always Forgotten. You'll love it if you love anecdote and a mild, forgivable dose of name-dropping (we are told at least twice that Hughes' maternal aunt was maid to Queen Elizabeth). For example, kids sledging down stairways and coal-piles, paying for a house in Tangier Kasbah with two donkey-loads of silver coins, and literary visitors such as Arthur Koestler escorted home through the rising tide. Or, the author musing on whether his mother (the painter Frances Bazley) had slept with Augustus John because said Pembrokeshire lech was renowned to only finish and sign the portraits of women he had bedded. And (this is a good one) father Richard (Hughes, eminent author of A High Wind in Jamaica) claiming he sailed from the West Indies with two baby crocodiles in his cabin sink. Everything I Have Always Forgotten is an easy, engaging and amusing read, although it would have benefitted from more extensive editing to handle information, especially its introduction, repetition and content in respect of readership (eg regarding the Italianate village Portmeirion facing the Hughes' house across the Dwyryd estuary near Porthmadog). And a minor point regarding house-style: are only upper-class authors allowed by their press to name their 'Parents' with a capital (Aged) P?

I'll report in no further detail so as to avoid pre-empting my reviewer, novelist Tristan Hughes (no relation), to whom I gave the commission because of the interest his fiction shows in children being allowed extensive freedom, as his story for NWR 99, inspired by A High Wind in Jamaica, illustrates. Tristan's review will appear in our spring edition, NWR 103.

Except to say, more intelligent memoir set in north Wales (or even Wales, such is our shortage) is greatly welcome. It is also delightful to read a Welsh-set contemporary title in which animals feature with affection and humour; the early part of this book, with its hide-and-seek playing labradors and tame jackdaws, has more than a shade of My Family & Other Animals. To me, Everything I Have Always Forgotten belongs to an as-yet unwritten canon of memoirs by the aspiring and actual upper-class offspring of eminent cultural fathers, whose boarding-school foreshortened childhoods were spent in rural north-west Wales (or more precisely, Eifionydd and Dwyfor). Although slightly younger, novelist Robin Llywelyn, grandson of Clough Williams-Ellis (architect of Portmeirion), belongs to this group alongside poet Twm Morys (born 1961, son of Jan). As does Gwydion Thomas (son of RS), growing up at Rhiw at the tip of Llyn (Walford Davies' NWR 64 interview draws on memoirs still unpublished in book form). Like those of Hughes, the experiences of this whole group must surely be seen in print soon. They all have important things, well worthy of a book-length memoir, to say about postwar Wales, class, deracination, teenage life in a world-class landscape and the wavering shadow cast by artistic ancestors.

As for Everything I Have Always Forgotten, I look forward to discovering more about Hughes' (senior) Morocco tales and the gay (in both senses, I can just feel it coming) anecdotes from the Kasbah house era. Also, whether the slightly sinister promise of that mysterious title (why not 'everything I had always forgotten'?) is fulfilled.

       


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