Retracing Wales

From Planet 219

Cefn Sidan Sands


It is the most ordinary images from my childhood that seem extraordinary now. There’s my father on a Sunday night, laying out newspaper over the kitchen linoleum so he can clean six pairs of shoes. There’s my mother, when I was sixteen, getting me a passport and a bus ticket and sending me and my sister to Belgium to stay with family friends we’ve never met. There are us, my sisters, my brother and I, running along a beach, although it’s not always easy to tell which beach, as there were so many: the rocky cliffs at New Quay, the illuminated promenade at Blackpool, the harbour at Conway, and the wide open skies above Cefn Sidan and the Gower Peninsula. We moved house nine times and I went to three different schools by the time I was eight, or sometimes not at all, as we were also home-schooled for a while. At least I think so – my memories aren’t as clear as they should be, and I’ve had to ask one of my sisters, who is three years older than me, and remembers better. There are the six of us sitting round the kitchen table, hammering at crab shells, separating the white meat from the brown. My father has brought them home in buckets, a lobster too, its claws moving around, snapping at the air.

I was obsessed with sea shells. On each of our beach walks I filled my pockets with them to draw when I got home: razor shells, striped whelks and small ridged scallops. I copied out the Latin names for them from library books. I washed them clean and laid them out on my window sill. My favourites were unspoiled, curved heart shapes, two halves stuck together.

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