|Dylan Thomas' childhood home|
DAY 5, Friday – We See Swansea & So All Things Dylan (Thomas)
because it had a long narrow sign, saying, at length, basically, “Thomas drank here.” There, I had a wonderful dish of cockles “with laverbread gratine” and bacon. The cockles were like tiny mussels in a thick white sauce where the laverbread hid out with the bacon, all topped with slices of cheese, not what I’d think of as “gratine,” but it was very good and no doubt more calories than usually I get in a day. Paul had a local lager, as usual, good but warm. A Welsh couple seated near us, who’ve been on a Caribbean cruise, said Gower is a good beach town to visit, and I see in the books, it has both beach and historic buildings to see.
|Geoff Haden, owner of the house, |
was our terrific guide.
Then we caught a taxi up to the Dylan Thomas Birth House at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. (I’ve long wondered how that’s pronounced: it’s “come-DONg-kin.”) I had read some disparaging remarks on Trip Advisor about this and didn’t get my hopes up, but what we found here was quite good, excellent, showing once again what idyots many T.A. commentators are. We were met by the owner, Geoff Haden, and though he is a bit self-effacing, we got him to talk first about himself. A retired structural engineer who was born and raised in Swansea, he was distraught to tour the house and find it in terrible condition, rented for years to groups of students who had painted over and over in garish colors. Then for a solid year, he and his wife Anne had the walls and baseboards and fireplaces stripped down layer after layer to their original colors, which they got matched by a paint company. And they found a 92 year old woman who had been a servant in the house and led them around telling them how it would be, after warning them, “You mustn’t say anything bad about the Thomas family. They were wonderful people.” Not much had been changed structurally, so they then set to work gathering furnishing of the period, including a big Swansea grandfather clock.
He gave us an excellent tour, interweaving biography and writing and a few of his own experiences. His most recent was having Prince Charles visit in preparation for the 2014 centenary celebrations of Thomas’ birth. My favorite part was that Prince Charles wasn’t to be served any food, but they had tea there and so of course he had to take it, and when he saw the food, he ignored the biscuits and mentioned he LOVED Welsh cakes, and he ate a Welsh cake then and there as his “Minders,” who’d been pointing to their watches for a half hour, were dying. (I mean, food is supposed to be vetted.) Can’t imagine how he managed to have only one.
Haden even pointed out to us how the neighborhood would have been when Thomas lived there, and told us about one of his favorite Thomas short stories where Thomas returns to Swansea decades after leaving, looking for himself. I told him I knew the feeling. We mentioned we had lunch at the No Sign, and he said it the best place in the city for authentic good and a place Thomas really did go. He also suggested a pub just down the hill as a favorite
If you are going to South Wales, I highly recommend this terrific heritage spot, especially if you know Thomas’ poetry (See “Do Not Go Gentle into That Goodnight.”) or A Child’s Christmas in Wales. The Hadens are extremely gracious hosts, who have done a lot of work to bring this site up to excellent historical and enjoyable standards.
As for us, we grabbed a taxi back to the train station with the most jolly Welshman I had met so far with two arms filled with tattoos that go way back to before the latest tattoo craze, 30 years old they were, he told me.