Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Search, part 4; Steve Lamb

(September 01, 2017)

Previous chapters of Search are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3, 4 and 5
     Part 3; Chapters 6 and 7

Search,
by Steve Lamb

Chapter 8

There was one large brown envelope in my mother’s cupboard. I hadn’t expected there to be anything at all after the paperwork I’d already reviewed. I still couldn’t get over how she had arranged things so immaculately. I peeled back the flap and tipped the contents onto the kitchen table where I had been working. There was just a school exercise book with my name on the cover written in a schoolboy’s hand. It was one of my history books. I smiled thinking she must have kept it to remind her of my school days. I knew she had been proud that I did well in school. But she had not preserved it for that reason, in fact she had ripped out the few pages that had been filled with notes on the Tudors and Stuarts. She had used the book to record a history I did not know. As I flicked through it I saw only page after page of her handwriting and a few items tucked inside the back cover: a photo of a toddler dressed in a frilly white dress and my parents’ marriage certificate. I had no idea about the child and the certificate was puzzling because the date was just months before my father died and I knew they had been married for years before that.

………………

Dave I have carried too many secrets with me for too long. I should have told you my story many years ago. Forgive me, I did not know how to start and now I’m sure it is too late. I could not bear to see my shame reflected in your eyes. You know so much and yet you know so little about me and about your father. You might never understand because times have changed and people are different today – more straightforward, open and forgiving. You and Julie don’t expect lies and secrets to smother real feelings and you don’t expect people to put up with heartless limits on happiness. In my day women accepted too much and gave up too much in order to keep their men. Don’t think too badly of me, or of us. Please.”

……………

There were tear stains on the paper, brownish circles darker at the edges randomly marking the page. I blinked and swallowed with difficulty as my mother’s strong emotions had an immediate impact.

…………..

I’m sure you are angry with yourself for not insisting that I moved back to Wales to be with you when I first became weak. The truth is I would never have returned. There are too many bad memories of what has haunted me. I am tortured too much at night already, punished for what I did and did not do.

It began of course at that bus stop by the train station in Ponty with the rain beating down. There were not many cars on the roads in those days but this one came tearing towards us. You know what happened. The driver was drunk and he lost control. The car charged the queue and Dad threw me out of the way. Four people died including my parents. It hardly seems real any more for the details are now nothing more than grains of sand in the hour glass of my life. I’ve cried all the pain out of that night.

I was taken in by Aunty Nia and Uncle Gethin who lived on the Common in Pontypridd. He was Dad’s cousin and not really an uncle at all but I had no closer relatives. They did me a favour, as they made clear so many times. There was no love for me in that household. At fourteen I had to develop a thick skin to defend myself from their displeasure and to close down the grief that they saw as selfish. They never hurt me but they harmed me every day with their coldness when I was hungry for warmth.

I sought independence as soon as I was settled in the Tax Office in Llanishen. I never went back to the Common again. You know about the flat in Whitchurch Road above the hairdresser’s shop, it felt like a palace to me. Rhiannon was a great friend and in our quiet ways we enjoyed life fully. She was the first to find a man and when that happened I was left more and more to my own devices. It was then that my boss in the office started to take an interest in me. He was much older, something like a father figure the other girls would say. We would walk down to Llanishen village in the lunch hour and eat our sandwiches by the church.

At first he would always want to talk about me and my life but after a while that changed. He told me more about his marriage and about the coldness of his wife. She made him so unhappy and he was desperate to leave her and to find a new life. They had no children and were never likely to have. They were leading separate lives within the same house. I felt more and more that I was meant to save him from his unhappiness. I knew about this kind of loneliness and I thought we could build a life together. None of this ended well. I was tricked by his lies and he got what he wanted and then he turned his back on me. He got himself transferred to the Cardiff city centre office when I found out that I was carrying his child.

It was at that time that I met your father. I was sitting in Roath Park on a Sunday morning. The sun was shining but it could have been snowing for all I noticed anything. Someone was speaking to me but I was miles away. As I was forced to listen to an insistent voice I realised that my cheeks were wet with tears and that I must have been sobbing loud enough to be heard. Your father refused to leave me there. He persuaded me to walk with him until I was myself again and then he walked me home. There was nowhere open on a Sunday in those days except the churches and chapels and they had no welcome for the likes of me.

Your father was kind and understanding. He supported me and stood by me when I could turn to nobody. I dared not think about what the future held because I had become used to bad things appearing around the next corner. I thought it was happening again when he called after work with a worried look on his face. I was about six months pregnant, he knew all about my predicament of course. I was waiting for him to turn his back on me and I thought this was the moment. Instead he told me he was being transferred to Bristol and had a strange proposal to make. He wanted me to move with him and for us to live as husband and wife. Nobody would know any different up there. It was the only way he could see our way forward. Nobody in Cardiff would understand him courting a woman pregnant with someone else’s baby but no one in Bristol would question a happy little family.

Living a lie should be a terrible thing but for me it seemed like the same kind of release that moving to Cardiff had been. The last months of my pregnancy were horrible but strangely happy. The more needy I was the more your Dad was everything to me. My little girl Bethan was born two weeks prematurely and she was an angel.”

……………

When I heard the phone ringing I jumped. The spell my mother’s words had cast was broken. My cheeks were wet, my throat ached and it felt as if there was something growing beneath my rib cage. The call was from Julie and I stuttered a greeting after stabbing my finger awkwardly at the small screen of the mobile.

Dave – what’s the matter?” She knew I was in difficulties but she could have no idea about the chaos inside my head. All the things I had held to be certainties and everything I knew about my own family were…. Were what? I was lost for words. “Dave, speak to me, say something.”

 

 

Chapter 9

The meeting between Chief Constable Peter Jenkins and the Police and Crime Commissioner, Mrs Rhiannon Phillips took place the morning after the press conference. The Commissioner was the first woman to occupy her position in Wales and she was keen to impress the electorate with her effectiveness. She’d instructed the Chief Constable to come to her Cardiff Bay apartment in order to avoid the attention of the media circus that had gathered since the children’s bodies had been found. They sat at a table looking out over the moorings of the yacht club towards open water. Neither paid much attention to the view.

The press conference was appalling. Are your officers up to this job? Quite frankly they inspire no confidence. They’re out of their depth. I’m glad this is no laughing matter because otherwise we would be the subject of ridicule from every stand-up comic and every satirist around. Even so the newspapers are having a field day. Peter, come on, what are you going to do about it?” She waved her hand over the array of daily newspapers arranged in a fan shape on the table before her. It was one of the few times that all the editors had led with the same item. The television news programmes had been no different. If anything they were worse because of the short clip of a woman shouting about damage to the victims’ eyes which was repeated over and over. This had been a heckled intervention after the briefing had ended but it received more attention than anything else. Inevitably this had led to a tide of speculation and astonishment in studio discussions between commentators and analysts.

Peter Jenkins was in his final year before retirement and this was the last thing he wanted. “Commissioner,” he paused as if searching for a solution to a stubborn problem, “these are good people. It’s just the nature of this challenge and especially the guidance we seem to have been getting from the perpetrator himself. He seems to know what we are doing, what we are thinking... It’s beyond our experience. It’s not just a crime and a particularly nasty one at that. If that were all, we would tackle it, as we always do, with care and thoroughness, using all the tools that we have at our disposal.”

Come on!” She slapped her fingers against the edge of the smoky glass table and interrupted him. “Good people are not good enough if the problem is beyond their understanding – and yours. Where do we go next?”

With respect madam, you are not and never have been a police officer. There are issues here which need to be considered dispassionately and not treated like a debating challenge at a party political conference. We are bringing in experts to assist us where we need help but it is only the start of the investigation. We haven’t even had post-mortem reports yet and you are implying my team has already failed. Aren’t you reacting rather foolishly? This is exactly why I was opposed to the introduction of police commissioners in the first place, with respect. I am yet to be convinced that people like you, too often superannuated politicians or time servers, bring anything to the table.” He started to get up. “I would be better served working with my officers than continuing with a conversation which seems to have little purpose.”

Sit down, sit down. I’m sorry if I have offended you but I believe in speaking my mind. The problem with police officers is that you live too much in the bubble of police culture. You are not aware enough of the way you are seen by the general public. You do not realise how much you depend on the respect of ordinary people to generate the good will which allows you to do your job. It’s a fragile relationship made all the more fragile by stories of police corruption and incompetence. My job, in part, is to hold up a mirror in which you can see yourself and your colleagues as ordinary men and women see you. You deserve respect for much of the difficult work you do well but you deserve to be challenged and held to account for your shortcomings. You cannot hide behind a ‘we know better’ dismissal of the outside world’s opinions. It’s a modern world and new technologies have changed everything irrevocably – you are open to scrutiny and manipulation by those who wish you well and those who don’t. Yesterday was a case in point. Your officers thought they were in command of an amenable group of crime reporters who were going to work with them deferentially to bring a criminal to justice. They were wrong. Those London reporters are creatures of sensation and not of right or wrong. They would protect the criminal as a source if it would guarantee them a lead over their competitors. They are poorly paid hacks hungry for advancement governed by amoral editors and owners concerned only with sales and advertising revenue. That goes for television, radio, online and print journalism.”

The Chief Constable had slowly settled back in his chair as the tirade continued. He looked at the fingers of his hands folded in front of him as if he was praying.

I can’t say that I understand everything you are talking about but there’s a lot I don’t understand these days. It’s a different world to the one where I cut my teeth. But I have always trusted my men and their methods. What do you want of us, surely not resignations?”

Now Rhiannon reached beyond the newspapers to a buff file and opened it as she moved it nearer.

I want to talk to you about an officer in the Met, a Welsh speaking woman who was brought up in Ceredigion but whose career has taken place entirely in London after graduate entry when she completed her degree in Imperial College. She’s particularly skilled in media management as well as being a highly successful investigative officer. She was the lead officer of the team which cleared up the murders associated with that modern slavery ring in Peckham: that was a complex case and she led a big team under intense scrutiny. She’s made it clear that she wants to come home and I think this is an opportune moment to request secondment. It will impress those reporters who are on your back because, after Peckham, she is their darling. Have a look at Lyn’s file, that’s Chief Superintendant Eluned Hughes. You probably heard her speak at your conference last year. I don’t intend you to dismiss anyone from your team – just consider adding Lyn as a clear sign that you are going to up your game.

To be continued...

Steve Lamb, September 2017

Previous chapters of Search are available here:
     Part 1; Chapters 1 and 2
     Part 2; Chapters 3, 4 and 5
     Part 3; Chapters 6 and 7

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2017

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