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"I was an eager learner. In the Elementary School literacy was regarded as a kind of scrubbing brush and our faces shone.  In the Sunday School my joy was qualified.  Little of the theology came through for the classes were conducted in Welsh, but since Congregationalism, my sect, has a loose, ideological framework no harm was done.

In 1926 I passed the entrance scholarship to the Grammar School.  The great economic palsy was now well under way, and a convulsive anxiety entered into the speech and thought of most of us.  In a class of thirty to have a third of the fathers at work was considered a bonanza.  Our teachers treated us with no great sympathy.  In that set-up, with the best will in the world, there simply was not enough compassion to go round.  In our margin of alienation we devised a world of jests, rich but bitter.  We were so deprived we lacked even the sense of being deprived.  We had that kind of luck.  But intellectually the school was a sort of Outward Bound establishment without the physical fripperies. Academically we climbed rocks or had them thrown at us.  We ate books.  Like the rats in the lawyer's office, in the tale by Anatole France, our bodies creaked with parchment.

I specialised in Modern Languages, Spanish above all, because its vowels matched exactly the shape of my lips, and I had heard that the Argentine tobacco was cheap and sensuality kept on a looser rein.

I won a clutch of scholarships.  There was no chair of Spanish in the University of Wales so I went the whole crazy, adventurous way and got admitted to Oxford.  There I was allowed to take up only one of my scholarships and my poverty would have impressed Gandhi.  A loyal platoon of brothers and sisters kept me breathing.  I became so gaunt I was twice asked by the authorities whether I was a student or a specimen of dereliction sent subversively up from the areas of distress. 

I played less part in the social life of the place than the people in the graveyard on which my college window looked out.  My college has since made a great contribution to Oxford sport.  In my time it was massively undistinguished.  During my sojourn there it gained only three Blues : two for debt and one for dandruff, and I had a hand in all three.

In I933 I was allowed time off from Oxford to attend the University of Madrid which was to become, three years later, part of the front in the battle for Madrid.  The place was brand new and its fittings totally inefficient.  Half my lectures were held in suspended lifts.

Spain made up for the eroded humanity I found at Oxford.  Wandering among the mining valleys of the Asturias confirmed me in my belief, generated long before in interminable hillside chats with the lads around Porth, that a unique vein of humour was waiting to be opened among the socially aware and politically conscious working people of our epoch, the voters, the wry, sardonic, conscious changers of our collective destiny, the heirs of the golden future who had to pool their savings to buy a fish and pennyworth of chips.

Our minds march back through layers of remembrance; back to the first nightfall of the last dinosaur.  Then they turn round and report for normal work.  We create, in any passionate response to the past, a second womb. Some live within the mind of Buddha or the anguish of Christ. Others, less daring, imitate Sir Winston Churchill, Ronald Coleman or Georgie Best.

I have been casting an eye on some of the active phantoms from the dead centuries that have given a slant to phases of my own personal conduct."

('A Few Selected Exits: An Autobiography of Sorts'   - Gwyn Thomas)





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Last Updated April 2013
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